Walking to Stay Hospital-Free with COPD

COPD hospitalizations were lower in patients with higher physical activity levels

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For patients with lung disease, developing a regular exercise habit requires extra dedication. But new research shows that physical activity may improve COPD outcomes.

Researchers followed COPD patients for five years to see how changes in their exercise habits affected their rates of hospitalization.

These researchers found that patients who exercised the least were hospitalized twice as much as those who exercised the most.

The authors of this study suggested that walking three times a week could potentially prevent COPD-related hospitalizations.

"If you have COPD, take a walk at least three times each week."

Cristobal Esteban, MD, of the Hospital de Galdakao-Usansolo, led this study on exercise and COPD.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung condition often caused by smoking. People with COPD experience shortness of breath and chronic coughing. COPD is also characterized by emphysema, in which the lung tissue breaks down and reduces breathing ability.

This study looked at whether physical activity affected the rate at which COPD patients were hospitalized.

Dr. Esteban and colleagues recruited COPD patients who were being treated at five outpatient clinics. A total of 391 patients completed the study.

Each of the participants had been diagnosed with COPD and received treatment for at least six months.

The researchers interviewed the patients and asked about the frequency and type of physical activity they had engaged in during the previous year.

Patients who left home to walk fewer than two days per week were considered "non-regular physical activity doers."

The participants who walked at least three days per week were classified into five categories depending on the distance they walked each day, from low to very high physical activity.

The researchers calculated each participants' change in physical activity by comparing exercise levels at the beginning of the study to exercise levels at their yearly follow-up visits.

Information on levels of shortness of breath and other respiratory-related symptoms were also collected from the patients.

The participants also completed a six-minute walking test during follow-up visits.

Participants were followed for up to five years.

After the study concluded, the researchers found that increasing or maintaining a higher level of physical activity reduced the risk of being hospitalized for COPD.

On the other hand, decreasing or maintaining a low level of exercise was tied to an increase in hospitalization rates.

The researchers also found that patients with higher levels of exercise tended to be younger, experienced less shortness of breath and had fewer COPD-related hospital admissions in the two years prior to enrollment.

COPD patients in the study who were not active or had low levels of physical activity had almost twice the expected rate of COPD-related hospitalizations than patients who were very active.

The authors of this study wrote that physical activity decreases inflammation, which may prevent COPD-related hospitalizations.

They concluded that small changes in physical activity habits could significantly improve outcomes for COPD patients.

This study was published in Respirology on February 18.

The research was partially supported by government and hospital grants. The researchers disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 18, 2014
Last Updated:
February 20, 2014