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Your inhaler may be a trusted source of relief when you suffer from chronic bronchitis, but lifestyle changes can also help you breathe more easily. What do you need to know?

Chronic bronchitis, in which your bronchial tubes constantly battle inflammation, causes frequent coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of uncomfortable tightness in the chest [1]. No wonder that it can severely affect your quality of life! 

While pharmacological treatments, like inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators such as the Symbicort turbuhaler for chronic bronchitis, will almost certainly play a large role in the successful management of your symptoms, environmental and lifestyle factors also have an impact on your health. [2]

Rather than over-the-counter medications to treat chronic bronchitis, which many people are interested in, lifestyle changes — or perhaps better, protective measures — are most likely to be the "complementary bronchitis treatment" that will truly help you breathe a sigh of relief. What can you do to help manage your chronic bronchitis symptoms, starting from today?

Discuss Regular Exercise With Your Doctor

Vigorous physical activity is extremely tricky for some people with chronic bronchitis, and it's not unusual for patients to report that everyday activities like climbing stairs and walking exacerbate their symptoms. Even hearing this may discourage you from engaging in exercise in fear that your bronchitis will punish you for it. 

Research, nonetheless, shows that physically inactive people are much more likely to suffer from these everyday mobility restrictions than those who exercise on a regular basis [3].

Exercise, indeed, makes up a crucial part of so-called pulmonary rehabilitation, a non-pharmacological approach that the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes as a "broad program that helps improve the well-being of people who have chronic (ongoing) breathing problems" [4].

Even if a full pulmonary rehabilitation program isn't available to you where you live, you will benefit from regular exercise. Be sure to discuss your exercise plans with your healthcare provider before you start, though, as it is important that you don't overdo it if you haven't been exercising recently. Another thing you'll want to consider is the environment in which you might exercise — you may encounter irritants that trigger symptoms in both gyms and outdoors in polluted cities (see — Living in a highly polluted city: how to protect your lungs). Keep in mind that things like gardening, a brisk walk through town, and golfing qualify as exercise along with more "obvious" choices like jogging or swimming. [3]

Nutrition And Chronic Bronchitis 

No matter what well-meaning but ignorant people will likely have said to you if you suffer from chronic bronchitis (just as they would have if you had any other chronic disease), the whole "let food by thy medicine" mantra will — obviously — not cure your condition. The whole "chronic" bit makes that quite clear. What you eat does contribute to your overall health, including your bronchitis symptoms, however. That is why nutrition therapy is another integral part of pulmonary rehabilitation. 

Here is what you need to know [5, 6]:

  • Breathing requires more energy in people with chronic bronchitis, which means you may benefit from a slightly higher caloric intake. 
  • Though COPD patients are often advised to go on a high-carb diet, there is research that shows that a high-fat, low-carb diet may be more beneficial. 
  • Fruits and veggies are really crucial, as one study points out, because of their "antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, flavonoids, phytochemicals, and fiber" — consuming a balanced diet with plenty of them will provide a counter-balance to your increased risk of infections. On a less obvious note, Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and can therefore be really helpful in relieving your symptoms. In consultation with your doctor, you may also consider vitamin C, D, and E supplements.
  • Eating smaller but nutrient-dense meals more frequently will help you. 
  • Obesity makes your lungs have to work harder, while being underweight (a risk in people with severe COPD) will make you feel weak.
  • Corn-syrup sweetened drinks are really, really bad news for people with chronic bronchitis. [7]

While we're at it, what does proper hydration have to do with treating bronchitis? Despite the ubiquitous advice to increase water intake, studies have actually found that drinking more water than normally recommended doesn't help any. Dehydration, meanwhile, affects just about every part of your body negatively. Drink enough, then, but not ginormous quantities. 

Breathing Techniques

The following breathing techniques have been shown to have potential to help improve breathlessness [8, 9]:

  • Pursed-lip breathing: Inhaling through the nose with a closed mouth, and exhaling through pursed lips. 
  • A forward-leaning position: This one pretty much speaks for itself. You can rest your upper torso on a table, rest your elbows on your upper legs if sitting on a chair, or hold onto something and lean forward if standing.
  • Active expiration and inspiratory muscle training — ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation to find out more. 

Energy-Conservation Techniques

Energy-conservation techniques for people with chronic bronchitis strive to reduce your oxygen expenditure by developing an efficient routine. They include measures such as [10]:

  • Planning activities that involve physical activity in advance — this may involve getting everything you need for the day's work from upstairs in advance, for instance, getting a chair to sit in while cooking, alternating activities that are light and heavy to minimize breathlessness, and incorporating rest into your day. 
  • Making your own life easier by having machines do the work for you wherever possible (vacuuming and lawn-mowing are two examples of tasks that can now be delegated to a machine, though you'll have to sit on the lawn-mower of course), or involving other people. Examples are getting your groceries delivered rather than doing your own shopping, but also asking for help rather than DIY-ing household repairs. 
  • Minding your posture while you work. 

Some Final Words

In addition to these lifestyle changes that are also incorporated in formal programs of pulmonary rehabilitation, you can also look into "alternative remedies" that have some scientific backing, such as steam inhalation therapy for chronic bronchitis. You can also strive to reduce irritants that make your bronchitis worse from your home by investigating which volatile organic compounds are bad new for bronchitis. There's a lot you can do yourself to breathe more easily, but don't forget that your doctor is a valuable partner in deciding on your treatment plan — medication-wise, as well as beyond. 

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