In addition to pharmacological treatments, lifestyle choices can help patients with COPD deal with symptoms and improve well-being. Some positive habits may be both healthy and enriching for patients’ lives. Here are three suggestions based on research findings.
Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, can suffer from frequent coughing or wheezing, shortness of breath and trouble taking a deep breath. Patients are often aware of detrimental habits and things they should avoid dealing with the symptoms, such as smoking, underweight, air pollutants and irritants, lung infections and so on.
However, research suggests that there are positive lifestyle choices that patients can make to relieve symptoms while also enrichening their lives. They are of course not replacements or alternatives for medical therapy prescribed by physicians, but rather provide additional support for patients’ health and self-management of COPD symptoms at home.
Here are three positive actions, backed by research findings, that can be recommended to patients to help deal with COPD symptoms:
1. Singing found to improve health and relieve anxiety in COPD patients
Studies have found that singing can help ease the symptoms of COPD, improve breathing and increase lung function. A long-term study by Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent found regular singing improved COPD patients’ symptoms.
Participants in the study sang weekly for 60-minutes over a period of 12 weeks, and their breathing was assessed at the beginning and the end of the study using a spirometer. Most of the participants showed increased lung capacity, and researchers noted that the progression of their COPD symptoms had halted.
According to study author Dr. Ian Morrison, the lung function improvement was dramatic, particularly after about five months, once people changed their breathing habits.
Another study, conducted at the The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Hospital in the UK, compared the effects of a 6-week course of twice weekly singing to regular care in COPD patients. Overall, the singing classes improved COPD patients’ over-all health and relieved their anxiety more than regular care. The study also found that 96% of patients rated the singing workshops as “very enjoyable”, and 98% said singing had taught the something about breathing in a different way. In fact, the British Lung Foundation has set up dozens of Singing for Breathing groups aimed at people with chronic lung conditions.
2. Mindfulness meditation has positive effects on respiration and emotional function
Mindfulness meditation is another positive habit that patients with COPD can try to help relieve symptoms and lead a healthy life. The purpose of mindfulness-based meditation is to raise non-judgmental awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness interventions have proved to be effective in improving the management of psychological – and sometimes even physical – symptoms of patients with chronic conditions.
A small-scale pilot study, published in 2015 in the International Journal for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, found that an 8-week mindfulness meditation course improved respiratory rate in people with COPD compared to the control group. Participants also reported improved emotional functions after only six classes.
In a meta review about the effects of mindfulness interventions for asthma and COPD patients, it was also suggested that mindfulness meditation can increase psychological resources in situations related to COPD symptoms.
3. Water-based exercise shown to increase quality of life
People with COPD may have difficulties in exercising due to trouble breathing as well as muscle and bone conditions. A great way to cope with this can be to focus on water exercise, which is less stressful on the body and more manageable with COPD.
A 2013 study published in the European Respiratory Journal found that water-based exercises increased patients’ physical endurance and relieved COPD symptoms and fatigue.
In the study, participants with COPD were randomly allocated to either water-based exercise, land-based exercise or a control group that did not exercise. Compared to controls, water-based exercise training significantly increased 6-min walking distance, incremental and endurance shuttle walk distances, and improved Chronic Respiratory Disease Questionnaire (CRDQ) dyspnea and fatigue. Water-based exercise training was significantly more effective than land-based exercise training and control in increasing peak and endurance exercise capacity and improving aspects of quality of life in people with COPD.
The study authors suggested the effectiveness may be due to that fact that water can support body weight and provide extra resistance to increase exercise intensity.
All in all, supporting COPD patients healthy and positive lifestyle can offer significant benefits to support traditional medical care.
Chan, R. R.; Giardino, N. & Larson, J. L. (2015). A pilot study: mindfulness meditation intervention in COPD. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 10, 445–454. https://doi.org/10.2147/COPD.S73864
Clift, S. et. al. (2013): An evaluation of community singing for people with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – Final Report. Canterbury Christ Church University.
López-Lois, B.; González-Barcala, F. & Facal, D. (2021). Application of mindfulness techniques in patients with asthma or COPD, Journal of Asthma, 58:9, 1237-1246, https://doi.org/10.1080/02770903.2020.1776729
Lord, V.M.; Cave, P.;Hume, V.J. et al. (2010). Singing teaching as a therapy for chronic respiratory disease – a randomised controlled trial and qualitative evaluation. BMC Pulm Med 10, 41 https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2466-10-41
McNamara, R. J., McKeough, Z. J., McKenzie, D. K. & Alison, J. A. (2013). Water-based exercise in COPD with physical comorbidities: a randomized controlled trial. European Respiratory Journal 41, 6 https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/erj/41/6/1284.full.pdf