Diet, Exercise Can Help People Who Have Lung Disease

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The story took me by surprise – a man with lung disease who runs marathons pulling his oxygen tank behind me. I couldn’t find the story online, but found another one from the Denver Post so you won’t think I’m crazy. And believe me, I was totally amazed by this story since I watched my own mom’s struggles with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, the more research I did after reading the Post story resulted in learning more reasons why diet and exercise can make a big difference for someone with lung disease.

    So let’s start with diet, both in what to eat and how to eat. The American Lung Association (ALA) reports that the right mix of nutrients that are part of a healthy diet can actually help someone with COPD breathe easier. Interestingly, the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat require differing amounts of oxygen and result in differing amounts of carbon dioxide. For instance, metabolism of fat produces the least amount of carbon dioxide while carbohydrates produce the most carbon dioxide. “For some people with COPD, eating a diet with less carbohydrates and more fat helps them to breathe easier,” the ALA website reports.

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    The association recommends that people with COPD work with a registered dietitian who specializes in COPD in order to develop a food plan, find information on food-related issues (such as what to opt for when eating in restaurants), get recommendations about cooking resources, and identify any potential drug-food interactions that may result from the medications being taken.

    Interestingly, people with COPD need to be concerned about calorie consumption, but not for the reasons you’d think. It turns out that people with COPD can burn 10 times more calories than a healthy person. (However, ALA notes that some people with COPD do struggle with being overweight). Protein is a really important part of the diet of a person with COPD since it aids respiratory muscles. ALA recommends that people with COPD eat good sources of protein, eggs, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, nuts, dried beans, or peas) twice a day. People with COPD also may benefit from a multi-vitamin as well as additional calcium, since long-term use of steroids (which often are prescribed to deal with the COPD) may increase the body’s need for calcium.

    The ALA recommends changing the timing of when a person with COPD eats since eating 4-6 small meals daily (instead of 2-3 larger ones) may make a difference. “Your organs aren't packed tightly inside your body,” the ALA website states. “A muscular membrane, the diaphragm, is in the space between the lungs and the stomach. The diaphragm moves down and up as you breathe in and out. A full stomach presses up into the space below the diaphragm. This keeps the diaphragm from moving as far down as it should when you breathe in and your lungs don't fill completely.

    Exercise is also important for people with COPD. The National Jewish Health (NJH) website notes that exercise helps improve the lungs, heart and muscles, and can assist people with COPD to breathe more easily and to generally feel better. Of course, people with COPD should check with their doctor before starting an exercise regimen and then should start slowly and then build up. Some of the exercises that people with COPD often do include walking, water aerobics, and riding a stationary bicycle. The NJH website suggests the following exercise tips:

    • Remember to inhale prior to starting the exercise.
    • Exhale when you’re doing the most difficult part of the exercise.
    • Purse your lips when you’re breathing.
    • Don’t hold your breath while exercising.
    • Count aloud as you work through the exercises.

    COPD may slow you down, but it doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. Instead, focusing on a healthy diet and getting some exercise can actually help you manage this disease.

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Published On: February 23, 2012

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