A Healthy Weight Can Improve COPD Symptoms

Health Professional
Medically Reviewed

Did you know that more than 1 billion people worldwide are overweight? Or that 2/3 of us in the United States weigh too much? Yes, it's a fact. And even worse, for those of us in our 50s or older, adult obesity has increased by a whopping 60 percent during our lifetime

Diseases of obesity are also on the rise, including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and heart disease. Cancer is also a bigger risk when you are overweight.

Chances are, if you're reading this, you weigh too much too. I understand; I'm one of you. But you're probably wondering what does all this have to do with COPD?

Well, there is a growing volume of evidence that there is a significant relationship between obesity and COPD. Although being overweight won't cause you to develop COPD, it will make your symptoms much worse. It decreases your tolerance for activity for one thing. Since COPD already makes it harder to breathe when you're active, you're getting a double whammy by also being overweight.

How to Know If You Weigh Too Much

If we're being honest with ourselves, most of us know that our weight is not in a healthy range when we start to notice a gut, can't see our feet as easily or our clothes start getting too tight. But many people don't realize just how bad it's gotten. Might be denial or it might just be that most of the people around you are overweight too.

Experts, though, use a measurement called Body Mass Index, or BMI for short. You can use the BMI calculator at this National Institutes of Health website to see where you fall on the chart. The categories are as follows:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

You might be surprised to see where   you fall. I know I was a couple of months ago, before I committed to a weight loss program! The good news is, even a loss of five to 10 pounds can make a big difference in your health.

Reasons Why You Should Have a Healthy Weight

The main benefit you'll enjoy as you start to lose weight is that you'll feel better. You'll breathe easier and be more able to be active. Carrying around extra weight, especially fat, interferes with the business of breathing. It make you work harder and can decrease your ability to take a deep breath. It also can increase your shortness of breath, one of the hallmark symptoms of COPD. So getting thinner can help with all those issues.

In addition, working toward a healthy weight will have these benefits:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • More energy & endurance
  • Better sleep
  • Less aches & pains from stress on the joints
  • Improved muscle strength and joint flexibility
  • Lower blood sugar levels
  • Improvements in mood
  • Better self esteem & confidence

Do any of those benefits sound good to you? Can you see how they will help you cope better overall with your COPD?

How to Get to a Healthier Weight

Now, the bad news is, losing weight takes commitment, hard work and time. It won't happen overnight, not if you do it the right way. But the benefits will be long-lasting and the hard work is definitely worth it. And, as I said above, even a change of only five to 10 pounds will make a difference.

Losing weight -- and keeping it off -- requires two changes in your lifestyle, not a crash diet. Those changes are:

  • Learning to make healthy food choices
  • Becoming more active

In general, making healthy food choices means eating smaller portions, but eating more often, which is also easier on your COPD. It also means striving for a balance of different types of proteins, fruits, vegetables and grains, but limiting the amounts of carbohydrates you eat, especially empty carbs like candy and sweets, as well as the amount of fat in your diet. Think whole foods!

Becoming more active will be defined differently for different people, depending on how active you are now. If you've been mostly sedentary, then becoming more active might look like taking a daily walk around the block or dancing in your living room during commercials on the television shows you watch. If you're already active, it might mean adding some light weight routines to your daily plan, or increasing the intensity of what you've been doing. Be sure to consult with your doctor before you add any new exercise to your daily routine.

In future posts, I'll go into healthy eating and healthy exercise in more detail. But for now, focus on making small changes geared towards losing weight. In time, you'll start to see big results!