Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects an estimated 24 million people in the United States. If you happen to be among them, it is vital now more than ever that you take extra care to protect your lungs and stay healthy.

Steps to easy breathing

The clear-cut first step in this is to quit smoking. Your lungs will begin to heal immediately after quitting. Look for a program with a proven record of success, such as “Courage to Quit.” Next, avoid secondhand smoke. Smoke irritates lungs and makes it harder to breathe.

Perhaps less obviously, get a flu shot; influenza and other respiratory infections can lead to serious complications for people with lung disease. Keep the healthy momentum going by eating right. Living with COPD means you spend more energy breathing, so proper nutrition is an important part of staying healthy.

In your new routine, avoid chemicals around the house and elsewhere. Stop using scented products, such as perfume or hairspray. When cleaning, avoid harsh chemicals and use scent-free, natural products that are typically less toxic. It’s essential that you breathe clean air whenever possible. On hot, humid summer days with little wind, harmful chemicals linger in the air and can make breathing difficult. You can sign up to receive air quality notifications emails, and know when to stay inside.

“On hot, humid summer days with little wind, harmful chemicals linger in the air and can make breathing difficult.”

Move your body

Regular physical exercise is essential to managing COPD. Without it, COPD can worsen, making breathing more difficult. Exercise strengthens all muscles, including the ones used to breathe, and it can improve and maintain lung function. Simple routines, such as walking, dancing and yoga, can be performed at home without any sophisticated exercise equipment.

You can also join a pulmonary rehabilitation group in your community, a great way to participate in supervised exercise, meet other “COPDers,” and keep up-to-date on the latest developments in COPD.

Use your resources

Your health care provider is your partner in managing your COPD. Tell your provider about your reactions to medication or any changes in your symptoms. Your provider can also recommend exercises that are right for you and your COPD.

Journal your progress. Because COPD symptoms can worsen over time, it is essential for you to monitor your disease. Keep a list of dates and times when you experience symptoms and any reactions to treatments. Record when you exercise and how you feel afterward. Write down questions for your health care provider and make notes after any appointments.