Yes, you can live a full life with COPD!

Get more from each breath, get more from each day, get more out of life. Today’s treatments make it easier than ever.

Health Monitor Staff
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Russell W., 48, just completed his third Ironman competition. The gold standard in triathlons, the Ironman combines a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile cycle and a 26.2-mile marathon. All in the same day. All within 17 hours. Even more remarkable, Russell has stage IV chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—and that’s just one of the competitions he participates in. “Even though on some mornings, just brushing my teeth is a struggle, I keep going,” he says. “Finding a way to keep the motivation to exercise will vary from person to person. My way is to enter events. Whether it’s a sprint distance triathlon, a charity ride or Ironman races, once I’ve entered, I feel compelled to see it through and that means lots of exercise.”

For Jane P., it’s not athletic endurance feats but an artistic pursuit that helps her breathe better—and do more—despite COPD. “When I sing, my breathing problems seem to disappear,” says the 66-year-old grandmother of three. Indeed, singing has been proven to help increase lung capacity. Since joining a choir and following her treatment plan, she’s gradually built up her stamina. “I can play with the little ones, even get down on the ground with them for  a bit, without getting winded.”

COPD patient Tom H., 73, regained his energy after participating in pulmonary rehab. “I have worked up to exercising three days
a week for four hours, doing both aerobics and resistance training to build upper-body strength. Since then, I haven’t been back to the
hospital for my lung problems,” he says. Even better, he hasn’t had to give up activities he enjoys, like weekly poker with his friends and the occasional pool game. “I got some of my mojo back!” he laughs.

If, like Russell, Jane and Tom, you’re one of the estimated 24 million Americans coping with COPD—a severe lung disease that encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis—you may have felt at times as if life was passing you by. After all, COPD can make it hard to catch your breath, to face a flight of stairs without anxiety, to agree to an
afternoon at the mall with your friends. “The fear that your next breath may not be coming is like drowning,” admits Grace Anne Dorney Koppel, who was advised to make end-of-life preparations because of her severe COPD. That was almost 15 years ago!

The takeaway: You can slow COPD; you can improve; you can get your life back. “When I was diagnosed with COPD I was in a wheelchair. My lung capacity was at 26% of predicted capacity,” says Koppel, who is married to journalist Ted. “I’m still here. My predicted lung capacity is at 50%. I work a 12- to 14-hour day every day, but I find time to do a couple of miles on the treadmill.”

Why treating COPD is key
While COPD isn’t reversible, it is treatable. “We have lots of treatments that will help you manage your symptoms,” says James P. Kiley, PhD, director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. And working with your healthcare team to find your best treatment is worth the effort. The benefits:

  • You’ll be better able to do daily activities. Walking to the mailbox, carrying a load of laundry, preparing a nice dinner—with proper treatment, those ordinary activities will be less taxing. You may even feel able to take the stairs, rather than the elevator, to go up a flight or two.
  • You’ll sleep better. As COPD progresses, it’s easier to take in air when you’re upright rather than lying down, which makes it hard to get a good night’s rest. Medication, airway clearance techniques and other strategies can help you sleep more soundly.
  • You’ll be saying yes to the things you love. Treatment that alleviates chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath will make it easier for you to get out of the house and visit friends, take a stroll, go dancing and other activities you may have been avoiding because of uncontrolled COPD.

To find out how you, too, can live your best life with COPD, keep reading the pages of this guide. You’ll find the information and inspiration that can get you breathing easier and enjoying more than you ever thought possible—just ask Russell, Jane, Tom and Grace Anne.  

January 2015