Maximizing Your Energy with Lung Disease

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senior woman working in yard

Fear of shortness of breath may stop you from being as active as you once were. You don’t have to live this way. Managing your time and pacing yourself can help you conserve energy and do more. It’s even OK if you’re short of breath sometimes. You can learn to work through this without limiting your activities.

Manage your time

Shortness of breath can make everyday tasks take longer. This means there’s less time to do the things you enjoy. You can help prevent this by managing your time. Try these tips:

  • Plan ahead so your tasks are spaced throughout the day. As you plan, keep in mind the times of day you tend to have the most energy.

  • Do only 1 thing at a time. Finish 1 task before starting another.

  • Assemble everything you need before you start a task. This cuts out unnecessary steps while you’re working.

  • Think about what you really need to do. Be realistic about what you can get done in a day.

If you have COPD, losing weight and strengthening muscles can ease symptoms.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 16, 2015

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Balance activity and rest

When you’re tired, your activities will take longer. Fatigue also makes you more prone to infection. To avoid fatigue:

  • Stop and rest when you need to. Don’t wait until you’re overtired

  • Alternate between hard tasks and easy ones.

  • Give yourself plenty of time for each task, so you don’t have to hurry.

  • Take 20 to 30 minute rest breaks after meals and throughout the day.

  • If an activity takes a lot of energy, break it into smaller parts. For instance, fold the laundry first. Then take a break before putting it away.

  • Try not to exert yourself in extreme cold or heat. 

Find ways to conserve energy

The way you use your body during a task can help you conserve energy. For some tasks, you can also use special aids designed to reduce the amount of energy needed. Here are some tips:

  • Sit to dress and undress, shave, brush your teeth, and comb your hair. Use a long-handled reacher to pull on socks and shoes.

  • Sit on a bench to shower. Use warm water, not hot. (Steam can make breathing harder.) Dry off by wrapping yourself in a terrycloth robe.

  • Use energy-saving appliances, such as an electric can opener, a power toothbrush, and a dishwasher.

  • Use a cart with wheels to move groceries, laundry, and other items around the house. Some carts have seats so you can rest when you need to.

  • Keep the things you use most at waist level, so you can get them without reaching or bending.

Remember to breathe

People with chronic lung disease often try to avoid shortness of breath by rushing through tasks. This uses more energy and can actually increase shortness of breath. Instead, slow down and pace your breathing. These tips may help:

  • Move slowly during tasks that take a lot of effort, such as climbing stairs or pushing a shopping cart.

  • Use pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing while you go about a task.

  • Exhale when you exert effort. For example, breathe out as you lift up a grocery bag. Once you’re holding the bag, breathe in.

  • Concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. If your breathing is shallow, you don’t take in as much air.

  • Remember that it’s OK to be short of breath. Just pace yourself and do pursed-lip breathing.

Pursed-lip breathing

This type of breathing helps you exhale better. Breathing this way during activity will help you reduce shortness of breath:

  • Relax your neck and shoulder muscles. Inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts or more.

  • Pucker your lips as if you are going to blow out a candle. Exhale slowly and gently through your lips for at least twice as long as you inhaled.

male sleeping in bed

Sleep Problems and Lung Disease

Lung disease can make it harder to breathe at night. Try these tips to get more shut-eye.
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Medical Reviewers: Louise Akin, RN; MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician Last Review Date: Aug 29, 2014

© 2000-2015 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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Medical References

  1. American College of Chest Physicians. Lifestyle and Home Remedies (
  2. Living With COPD, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (
  3. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Risk Factors and Risk Reduction, UpToDate (

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