Conserving Energy and Managing Your Daily Activities

If you have COPD, you may find completing your activities of daily living like dressing, bathing, and housekeeping requires you to use more energy. When you use more energy to complete each activity, it may leave you feeling tired or short of breath.

Energy conservation is the technique of simplifying your tasks, so you use less energy. By using less energy to complete each task, you will have more energy to use throughout the day.

Remember the 5 P's

It is important to set realistic goals for yourself and remember you do not have to complete activities the same way you used to. By practicing the 5 P's, it will help you save your energy and get the most out of your day.

  1. Pace yourself
    Take breaks or rest between activities. Keep a slow and steady pace to avoid rushing. It is important to rest BEFORE you become fatigued as it will take you longer to recover once you get to a point of feeling overtired or "all done in."

  2. Planning ahead 
    Try not to do too many "heavy" tasks all in one day. For example, avoid doing your laundry, grocery shopping, and going to an appointment all in one day. Space these activities out.

  3. Position yourself 
    Position yourself upright when sitting and standing. Try to avoid bending or reaching excessively because that can cause shortness of breath and fatigue. Avoid staying in one position for too long as this can be fatiguing as well.

  4. Prioritize your activities
    Decide what is important for you to do and what can be done later. Do the activities that are most important or need to be done when you have the most energy.

  5. Pursed lip breathing 
    Pursed lip breathing is an exercise that helps you slow down your breathing so you can inhale and exhale more air. Practice pursed lip breathing daily until it becomes natural for you to use.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

Activities of daily living or ADLs are basic self-care tasks that help you maintain and improve your quality of life. These tasks may include bathing, dressing and grooming. 

Instrumental activities of daily living or IADLs require more planning and are tasks needed for daily living like cooking and shopping. These often require more energy.

ADLs and IADLs are important because often with chronic health conditions like COPD, it may be difficult to complete these without assistance. Talk with your healthcare provider about any challenges you are having with ADLs and IADLs because it can cause your COPD to worsen and make it unsafe for you to be living independently. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation program where you can learn more about managing your COPD.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL)

  • Shopping
  • Meal preparation
  • Housekeeping
  • Medication management

Activities of Daily Living (ADL)

  • Washing and bathing
  • Mobility- walking/stair climbing
  • Dressing and grooming
  • Intimacy

Tips for Managing Activities

Morning symptoms like cough, sputum (phlegm or mucus) production and shortness of breath are common for people living with COPD. You may find mornings to be one of the most difficult times of the day and may experience more challenges with your morning routine. 

Tips for getting started with your day:

  • Pace yourself in the morning.
  • Take your time and rest as you move from one activity to another.
  • Plan activities or medical appointments for later in the day so you do not have to rush your morning routine.
  • Keep water on your nightstand. Water may help thin the sputum (phlegm or mucus).  
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about when to take your daily COPD medication especially if you experience symptoms upon waking up.
  • Bathe or shower in the evening to avoid additional use of energy in the morning.
  • Lay out clothing the night before so you do not have to gather items in the morning.

If you have COPD, walking and using the stairs may cause shortness of breath. Whenever possible, try to limit the need to use the stairs, use an elevator or escalator. If you need to take the stairs, remember to pace yourself, rest when needed and practice pursed lip breathing. 

Tips for using the stairs:

  • Breathe out or exhale as you take a step.
  • Pace yourself as you are climbing up or going down the steps.
  • If you are short of breath while using the stairs, rest and do purse lipped breathing until your breathing is under control. 
  • If you are short of breath after using the stairs, find a safe place to lean against the wall or sit in a chair. Do pursed lip breathing. 
  • Try to keep items that you use on the level of your home that they are used most often to avoid multiple trips up and down the stairs.

You may find bathing, showering and washing your hair can cause exertion or make you tired. Pace yourself as you get ready for the day and allow time to rest. Remember: bathrooms are also a place where you are more likely to fall on slippery floors. Use a non-slip mat in the tub and a rubber-backed rug for when you step out of the tub or shower.

Tips for bathing and grooming:

  • Use assistive devices or durable medical equipment like a handheld showerhead, shower chair, tub transfer bench and grab bars. 
  • Avoid excess humidity and steam. Use a bathroom exhaust fan, leave the bathroom door or window cracked open.
  • If hot water or steam causes you to have shortness of breath, reduce the temperature of the water from hot to warm.
  • Put on a terry cloth robe after bathing.
  • Watch out for scented soaps or toiletries.
  • Sit down when doing your hair, applying makeup or shaving. 
  • If you experience accidental incontinence, purchase adult-incontinence products.

Dressing may cause exertion or make you more tired because you may find yourself lifting your arms over your head and bending over. The key is to plan what you are going to wear and use dress aids to reduce bending over.

Tips for dressing:

  • Wear stretch fabrics or looser fitting clothes. Tighter fit clothes may make it harder to breathe and are challenging to put on and take off.
  • Use dress aids like long handled shoehorns, a reacher or grabber, and sock aide to reduce bending over. 
  • Layer up if temperature extremes bother you.
  • Try slip-on or Velcro fastening shoes.
  • Position yourself and sit down on your bed or chair to get dressed.
  • Pace yourself and rest between putting on each item of clothing.

People living with COPD can and do have active and fulfilling sex lives. It is true that COPD can make many activities challenging, including being intimate. The key is communication with your partner. Discuss your fears and concerns, as well as any limitations you perceive having, openly with your loved one.

Tips for intimacy:

  • Plan time for intimacy when you are rested.
  • Experiment with other activities that are intimate, but require less movement and exertion such as caressing, hugging, massage and manual stimulation.
  • Experiment with positions that require less energy.
  • The partner who does not have COPD should make the majority of the movements.
  • If you use an inhaled medicine before exercise, ask your doctor about also using the inhaled medicine before sexual activity. Have your short-acting medicine available, if needed, during sexual activity.
  • Plan sexual activity when your long-acting medicine is at its peak.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about increasing your oxygen flow rate during sexual activity.

Remember: Communication with your partner can ease many of your concerns about intimacy.

Caregiver Tip:

If your partner has COPD, they might be self-conscious during intimacy. You may need to offer some reassurance that it is fine for him or her to use oxygen or to take more passive positions during intimacy.

Prioritize and plan your housekeeping schedule for the week and do different activities on each day. Before you get started, gather all the items you need. Alternate days where you do activities that use less energy and activities that use more energy. Allow time to rest between each activity. If you are having trouble completing any housekeeping tasks, ask your friends or family for assistance.  

Tips for housekeeping:

  • Plan your cleaning schedule throughout the week and allow time to rest. 
  • Focus on cleaning during the time of day you have the most energy.
  • Pick up clothes using a handy grabber reaching aid.
  • Sit, if possible, to complete tasks such as folding laundry.
  • Use a wheeled cart to move things around your home like laundry. Wheeled carts can also be used for shopping. 
  • Avoid cleaning products that are aerosols or contain ammonia, bleach or other harmful chemicals. 
  • Use a light weight, HEPA filtered vacuum

Plan your meals weekly. Before you get started, gather all your ingredients and cooking items. Keep spices or items you use often on the counter to avoid bending or reaching. 

Tips for meal preparation:

  • Plan your meals and shopping list.
  • Sit down during prep work like cutting or chopping.
  • Use a slow cooker or cook using only one pan to make things easier.
  • Keep frequently used items like pots, pans, utensils, and tableware on your stove range or counter instead of in cabinets.
  • Focus on eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day.
  • Make enough for left over meals. 
  • Rest before cleaning up after meals.
  • Leave dishes out to air dry or use a dishwasher if available to eliminate this extra clean-up step.

You may find shopping causes you to become short of breath and tired. Before you go shopping, plan what you need to buy by using a list. While you are at the store, pace yourself. If you are going grocery shopping, it may be helpful to know the layout of the store so you know what items you will pick up in each section of the store. Smaller grocery stores are easier to maneuver if you have this option.

Tips for shopping:

  • Always bring your quick relief or rescue medicine and enough oxygen for your entire trip. If you have a portable oxygen concentrator, bring extra batteries or chargers. 
  • Use the mobility device that has been recommended for you by your health care provider such as a walker, cane, scooter, or rollator to help you get around.
  • Avoid the store’s busiest hours because you may spend more time waiting in lines and feel more rushed as you are walking around.
  • Limit reaching or bending by asking for help if you need to reach something on a higher or lower shelf.
  • Use a shopping cart whenever possible. A cart can help you position yourself upright which may help you breathe better, and you can use it to lean against if you need to rest. If you only need a few items, using a cloth grocery bag that you carry over your shoulder allows you to keep your hands free while you shop.
  • Research grocery delivery companies in your area. You may be able to have your groceries delivered or shipped to you. 

Ask your friends or family to help with this task or assist with putting away your grocery items.

Managing COPD medication may be confusing especially if you are taking medication for more than one health condition. 

Tips for managing COPD medication:

  • Keep a record of daily medications taken.
  • Take medications at the same time every day.
  • Ask a family member, caregiver, or pharmacist to help organize medication.
  • Sign-up through your pharmacy for automatic refills or phone alerts when it is time to reorder. 
  • Use a pillbox or if your pharmacy offers, use blister packages to manage your medications.
  • If you use a nebulizer, store and use it in a place that you can get to easily. Find a space in your home that is comfortable and has a small table. 
  • Use a medication tracker.

Oxygen is a safe gas and is not flammable, but it supports combustion. If you are using supplemental oxygen, always follow the safety instructions from your oxygen supply company. 

Tips for using supplemental oxygen safely:

  • Be careful with oxygen tubing around the home it can be a trip hazard!
  • Wear your oxygen canula in the shower or bath.
  • Avoid electrical appliances and aerosols such as hair dryers, curling irons, heating pads, electric razors, and hair sprays while wearing oxygen.
  • Watch out for lotions and creams that have petroleum jelly or are oil-based.
  • Keep oxygen tanks away from gas sources including stoves, space heaters, electric and gas heaters. 

When going shopping, outside your home, or traveling, know how much oxygen you have remaining. Bring a backup portable oxygen tank with you when appropriate.

Get Help with ADLs and IADLs

Discuss your challenges with ADLs and IADLs with your healthcare provider and ask for a referral for an assessment by an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who specialize in helping people with health conditions like COPD manage everyday activities. 

  • Contact your health insurance provider to see what durable medical equipment (DME) or supplies are covered under your insurance. This would include items such as a commode, shower chair, or wheelchair.
  • Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and learn about the social services, meal service programs, and transportation programs in your area.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about pulmonary rehabilitation.
  • Share what activities or tasks a caregiver, family member or friend can help you complete.
  • Enlist help from a home healthcare agency.
  • Contact the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA or join the Living with COPD Online Support Community.
  • Talk to your friends and family about IADLS that you may need extra assistance with completing. 
  • Tell loved ones what tasks take more of your energy.
  • Letting your family or friends know a few specific tasks you need assist with can minimize feeling like you are asking others to do a lot for you.

If possible, ask more than one person to help with IADLs to spread out the work being done.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: May 23, 2023

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