How to Use a Health Diary to Monitor Your COPD at Home: Simple Tracking Tools and Home Measuring Devices to Help You Track Your Health
Keeping up with healthy habits is not an easy task; for many, it's a lifelong process—and sometimes a lifelong struggle—to stay on track. If you have a chronic health condition like COPD, it can feel downright overwhelming to shoulder the pressure of having to live a healthy lifestyle while also managing your disease.
If you don't have a solid plan and an organizational structure to guide you, it's nearly impossible to handle all those moving pieces on your own. That's why every person with COPD needs some kind of self-management system, and keeping a personal health diary is one of the easiest ways to establish such a system.
A health diary is simply a written or digital system for collecting, tracking, and analyzing all kinds of useful information about your health. Depending on how you use it, it can be a powerful tool for building new, healthier habits and staying on top of your COPD treatment routine.
In this post, we're going to show you how to create your own health diary from scratch, using an assortment of simple tools and health tracking techniques. We'll also show you plenty of ways you can utilize your health diary for practical purposes, such as motivating yourself to stick to an exercise schedule or remembering to take all of your medications on time.
The goal of this guide is to explain everything you need to get a functional health diary started, including how to collect useful data for your journal using a variety of different health measuring tools and data recording methods. We'll even walk you through the process of designing your own health tracking charts, spreadsheets, graphs, and other approaches to organizing and analyzing the information you collect.
What is Health Tracking, and Why Should You Do It?
Health tracking is a general term that refers to recording information about your body or actions you take regarding your health over a period of time. The system you use to record this data can take many forms, but is often referred to as a personal health diary or health journal.
You can make a health diary out of just about any medium that can store information: a blank notebook, a series of digital documents, a spreadsheet, a mobile app, and more. There's no single “right way” to do it, and there's a wide range of health-tracking methods you can choose from (many of which we'll teach you how to use throughout this guide).
You can use your personal health journal to track and store just about any information you want to, and it can be as brief, detailed, creative, or minimalistic as you'd like. The specific techniques and organizational methods your use are less important than finding a system that works for you and that suits the subject matter in your journal.
You can adapt a health journal to just about any disease or purpose, and different people keep them for all sorts of different personal and functional reasons. Doctors often recommend health diaries as self-management tools for patients with chronic health problems, especially those that are difficult to manage, like COPD.
In research and healthcare settings, health diaries are sometimes referred to as “clinical diaries,” “patient diaries,” or “self-management diaries.” These are used by doctors, researchers, and other healthcare professionals, too, to collect specific health data on their patients and closely monitor their conditions.
What's the Point of Tracking Your Health?
At its core, health tracking is all about collecting data that helps you (and/or your doctor) learn more about your health. This data can include objective health readings, like your weight, or subjective analyses like how energetic you feel throughout the day.
These records can give you and your doctor a clearer picture of what you're tracking than you could get from memory alone. In fact, some degree of health tracking is all but required for people who need to keep a close eye on a chronic disease like COPD.
Another key part of tracking your health is finding ways to actually use the data you collect to improve your health in some way. Most of the time, this involves looking for patterns and trends in the data and using what you've learned to adjust your habits and plan for the future.
For example, you could use a food diary to keep better track of your diet so you can look back over it later to find areas you can improve. Or, you could use a medication tracker to record when you take your COPD medications so that you can look at those records later to know when you should take your next dose.
Recording your choices in your journal is also a form of accountability that can push you to make the kinds of choices that you'd feel proud to write down. In this way, a health journal can be a powerful motivational tool if you're trying to change your habits or improve your health in a specific way.
Why Should People with COPD Keep a Health Diary?
Anybody can benefit from tracking their health, but it's especially useful for people who need to manage chronic health problems like COPD. A health diary can help you with just about any aspect of COPD management, including monitoring COPD symptoms, keeping your treatment schedules straight, and making healthy changes like exercising more, quitting smoking, and reaching a healthy BMI.
If you have COPD, your ability to succeed in all of these areas can have a huge impact on your quality of life and the course of your disease. This makes it all the more important to have a dedicated health tracking system to help you manage your well-being.
Here are a few of the major benefits that keeping a health journal can have for people with COPD.
It eases the burden of managing your health
Just like using planners and lists can help you manage your work routine, tracking your health and your COPD treatments in a journal makes it easier to manage your COPD. It can also help ease some of the mental burden of COPD management, especially if you tend to have a lot of worry or anxiety about your health.
Having a place to write things down and easily reference them later frees up time and mental energy that you'd otherwise be using to keep track of it all in your head. It also makes it easier to detect problems that might cause you worry, such as signs of exacerbation and worsening disease.
A health diary lets you know what's going on with your body so you can spend less time stressing about what might be happening. All of this can help you feel more secure and more in control of your health; this is especially important during uncertain times like the current COVID-19 pandemic, which is particularly scary for people with COPD and other conditions that make them vulnerable to serious disease.
It can help you set and track your health goals
Keeping a health journal doesn't just help you learn about your health; it can also be a powerful tool for improving your health and reaching your COPD treatment goals. In fact, health and habit trackers are an integral part of effective goal-setting, and they can make all the difference when you're trying to make a healthy lifestyle change.
Your health journal not only helps you asses you where you are at now, but also where you're going and how things change over time. It provides a practical framework to help you organize your objectives, visualize your progress, and make sure you're on the right track to reach your goals.
Because of this, health tracking is a particularly valuable tool for people with COPD, who often need to make major health and lifestyle changes because of their disease. For some people, this means completely overhauling their current routine, something that's incredibly difficult to do without a well-structured plan.
That's where your health journal comes in; when you're making a major habit adjustment, you need a place to write down your goals, record your progress, and keep track of all the steps you need to take along the way. While this might sound like an obvious strategy, it takes a lot of planning and work to get it right, and a reliable health tracking system can be your key for success.
It can help your doctor monitor your treatment
Unless you have a miraculous memory, it's impossible to remember all the little details about your health, habits, symptoms and other important things your doctor might need to know. Human memory is notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to details, which isn't ideal when your doctor needs correct information to properly treat you and your COPD.
However, you won't need to rely on memory if you have a health journal to record that information (e.g. your daily COPD symptoms) as you go. Then, you'll have accurate records that you can reference or bring to your doctor so he'll have more precise and nuanced information with which to evaluate your health.
It can help you recognize the signs of lung infections and COPD exacerbations
Keeping a close eye on your symptoms is the best way to catch COPD exacerbations, which often start with a slight uptick in respiratory symptoms. Unfortunately, this change is often subtle; many people don't notice it at first and, as a result, miss the opportunity for early treatment.
This is why many doctors encourage COPD patients to keep a written log of their symptoms and how they fluctuate over time. This makes it much easier to track subtle changes in your symptoms that can help you identify—and more accurately pinpoint the start of—a COPD exacerbation.
How to Use a Health Diary if You Have COPD
One of the great things about a personal health diary is that it can be essentially whatever you want it to be. It could be a simple log book, a planner, a habit-tracking chart, all of these things together, or anything in between.
It all depends on which health attributes you (or your doctor) are interested in tracking, and what you plan to do with the data you store. However broad or narrow your focus, you can tailor your personal journal to fit just about any particular need.
For example, your diary could help you manage healthy habits and work toward healthy goals, like eating healthier, exercising more, and taking your medications on time. You could also use a health diary to track and monitor certain aspects of your health, such as your weight, your physical activity, or your energy level from day to day.
You might also have specific health concerns that you want to monitor, such as your oxygen levels, blood pressure, or intake of specific nutrients. It's also a great way to keep track of your COPD symptoms and watch for patterns and triggers that could help you learn how to better manage your disease.
In the next sections, we're going to show you how you can use a health diary for a wide range of practical purposes, with a special emphasis on your diary can help you monitor and improve your COPD. We'll also introduce you to a variety of different tools and methodologies that can help you gather all kinds of useful data to record in your journal.
What To Record in Your COPD Health Diary
Information About Your Diet
An integral part of a healthy diet is keeping track of what you eat, and sometimes memory just isn't good enough to do the job. It's easy to underestimate unhealthy food choices or guess your calories wrong, which is why recording what you eat in a diary is one of the best ways to get an accurate picture of your dietary health.
This is especially important if you're trying to make changes to your diet, whether you're trying to lose weight, make healthier choices, correct a nutrient imbalance, or limit certain foods. These are changes that many people with COPD have to make after their diagnosis, since weight and diet can have a significant impact on your ability to breathe.
Because of this, doctors often prescribe special diets (e.g. low-salt or low-carbohydrate diets) and set target weight goals for COPD patients as part of their treatment. Unfortunately, people with COPD often have an extra hard time maintaining a healthy weight and diet, and often need extra help to succeed.
A health diary can provide that extra support by helping you track your food choices and manage a diet plan. This helps you understand your eating habits better, which is the first step to finding ways to improve it. It also forces you to think about your dietary choices more often, which helps you stay accountable to yourself and mindful about what you eat.
You can also use your health diary to schedule your diet and coordinate your meal routine. It can help you with everything from making shopping lists and meal planning to food prep and ingredient management.
Used right, your health diary can help you develop dietary discipline and establish long-term habits that can not only help you reach your diet goals, but also maintain those healthy habits once you get there. Over time, this can make a huge difference in your overall health and your quality of life with COPD.
Here are some different ways you could use your health journal to track and manage your diet:
- Keep a simple food diary: Keep a log of the types and approximate amounts of all the foods and beverages you eat and drink throughout the day.
- Track your micro/macro-nutrient intake: This requires a more detailed log of what you eat and drink that includes nutritional information and precise portion sizes. Luckily, free food tracking applications can do most of the work for you (e.g. nutrient calculations, daily/weekly totals, trend analysis, etc.) as long as the information you enter is accurate and complete.
- Make a weekly meal schedule: Plan your diet ahead of time by working up a meal schedule for the coming days or weeks, either on your own or with the help of a doctor or dietitian. It could be as simple as a list of meal options to choose from or a detailed chart specifying exactly what you plan to eat for every meal each day.
- Track specific nutrients over time: Determine which nutrients you want to keep track of (e.g. things you're trying to limit, like saturated fat or salt) and keep a running total of how much of that nutrient is in the foods you eat throughout the day. Then, you can map the totals you're interested in (e.g. from each meal, each day, each week, etc.) onto a simple chart or graph to get a better picture of how your intake of that nutrient varies over time.
Information About Your Medication
People with COPD often take several medications and have complicated treatment schedules that require a great deal of discipline every day. This is a major source of stress for many COPD patients, and often results in occasional missed doses and other treatment mistakes.
Unfortunately, poor medication management can have serious and lasting health consequences for people with COPD, including worsened breathing problems and more frequent COPD exacerbations. That's why, if you have COPD, it's absolutely vital to have a system in place to help you keep track of your medications and take them correctly every day.
This is a perfect job for your health diary, which can be an invaluable tool for scheduling, remembering, and managing complex treatment plans. Whether you use a pen and paper or a mobile medicine tracking application, keeping a medication diary can reduce treatment errors and help you keep your schedule straight.
In fact, research shows that patients who keep medication diaries, even very simple ones, are more likely to take their medication correctly. Studies also show that health diaries can be valuable tools for patient-doctor coordination; it can help your doctor learn more about how you're using your medications (e.g. how often you need to use your rescue inhaler), how well you're adhering to prescribed treatments (e.g. how often you miss doses), and what—if any—changes need to be made to your treatment plan.
A medication diary can also relieve a great deal of stress associated with having to keep track of all your treatment details in your head. It gives you a reliable place to offload it all—your treatment schedules, coordinating difficulties, and any other details you stress about—so you don't need to worry or keep it in the back of your mind all the time.
Here are some ideas for how you can use your health diary to track and manage your medications:
- Make a minimalistic medication tracker: Make a simple list or chart of all of your doses of medication for the day or week, and mark them with the corresponding date at time after you take each dose. This helps you keep track of which medications you have and haven't taken already so you're less likely to skip or double up on doses. (We'll give you more detailed step-by-step instructions for how to make a medication tracker later on in this guide).
- Keep an oxygen therapy log: Keep a running total of the number of hours you use supplemental oxygen in your journal every day. You can also record more detailed information, like the time when you start and stop using oxygen, to get a fuller picture of how you utilize oxygen throughout the day.
- Make a basic medication log: Write each of your medications across the top of a page or chart, and mark down the the date and time you take each dose under the name of the corresponding medication. This can be particularly helpful for tracking your usage of as-needed medications (like rescue inhalers) that require spacing doses a certain length of time apart.
To learn more tips and techniques for managing your COPD medications, check out our guide on the topic here.
Your Physical Symptoms
As most COPD patients know, keeping close track of your symptoms is a key part of monitoring and managing COPD effectively. In fact, many doctors recommend using a logging system to record what symptoms you have and how severe they are every day.
Keeping a symptom log in your health diary can help you get to know your baseline COPD symptoms better and learn more about how—and possibly why—your symptoms change over time. This information is useful for several different reasons, including for gauging the pace of COPD progression (as indicated by worsening symptoms) and for evaluating how your symptoms respond to different treatments and medications.
Tracking your symptoms can also help you identify COPD exacerbations and monitor their course over time. Your records can also yield additional insight into the length, cause, and the nature of your COPD exacerbations, information that could help you and your doctor determine the best course of treatment.
Here are some ideas for how to use your health journal to track your COPD Symptoms:
- Keep a minimalistic daily symptom diary: At the end of every day, write down the date and some basic information about the symptoms you've experienced that day: e.g. describe them in a couple of sentences, rate them using descriptors like mild, moderate or severe, or jot down a couple bullet points.
- Make a daily symptom tracking chart: Decide on a scale to use for rating the overall severity of your COPD symptoms (e.g. via a numerical scale from 1-5, or a color-coded marking) and record your daily ratings in in a pre-made chart or graph.
- Track your symptoms individually: Make a list of all the symptoms you tend to experience regularly, and (separately) rate the severity of each one every day. Alternatively, you could simply mark a “yes” or “no” for each symptom or only list the the symptoms you experienced that particular day.
- Record your symptoms during everyday activities: Rate your symptoms and/or write down some notes about how you feel after everyday activities like cleaning, taking a walk, cooking a meal, etc. This can help you better understand the impact your COPD symptoms have on your life and identify ways to reduce or eliminate the burden caused by the most difficult tasks.
Instead of making your own, you can use a variety of pre-made symptom tracking templates available online, like this minimalistic tracker or this printable weekly symptom tracker (PDF link) from alnursing.org.
Your Exercise and Physical Activity
Getting plenty of exercise is an important part of COPD treatment, but it's one of lifestyle changes that people with COPD tend to struggle with the most. And that's not just because COPD symptoms make doing physical activities difficult, but also because building new exercise habits is hard thing for anyone to do—especially in older adulthood, which is when most people get diagnosed with COPD.
Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher for COPD patients, who have to maintain an active lifestyle to live a good quality of life. Getting regular exercise can make the difference between staying physically independent as your COPD progresses, and not having the endurance to do even light household tasks on your own.
Because of this, any tool that can help you stay active is worth using, and anything is better than giving up. You're much likely to succeed if you have a system—like a health journal—to guide you and help you overcome the additional physical challenges caused by COPD.
For example, you could use your journal plan out your exercise goals, your strategy for reaching them. You can also log your physical activities in your journal so you can track your progress and improvement, which can help you stay accountable and motivated to keep working toward your goals.
Here are a few ideas for how you can use your health journal to track your exercise habits:
- Keep an exercise log: Every day, take some time to write down any exercise or physical activities you've done throughout the day.
- Make a basic exercise planner: Make a chart or calendar in your health journal to keep track of when you need to work out as well as what type of workout you plan to do.
- Create an exercise habit tracker: Make a simple chart or graph to track information about your activity, such as the types of physical activities you do, your dedicated work-outs, or the number of minutes/hours of exercise you do throughout the week.
Your Mood and General Mental Well-being
Using your health journal to track your mental well-being is a great way to get more in tune with your emotions, including how you're coping mentally with COPD. It's also a great way to keep tabs on mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, which tends to affect people with COPD more often than people without the disease.
There's a wide range of mental health journaling methods to choose from, ranging from simple diary entries to complex mood and emotion-tracking spreadsheets. The simpler and briefer techniques make it easy to find trends and patterns quickly, while the more open-ended methods allow you to explore and express your thoughts in a deeper way.
A simple daily mood tracker, for example, can help you find patterns and possibly even identify triggers that affect your emotional well-being. You could also use your diary to keep tabs on specific feelings and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, anger, or feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Of course, there's always the traditional personal diary format where you simply write down your thoughts however feels best to you at the time. Any technique will do as long as you have an idea of what kinds of personal struggles or mental traits you'd like to monitor or explore.