Exercise May Prevent Return Trip to Hospital for COPD Patients

COPD patients with higher levels of physical activity had lower risk of rehospitalization

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

(RxWiki News) Due to the nature of the disease, people with COPD are typically quite sedentary. New research is giving them a good reason to add even a little exercise into their daily routine.

People admitted to the hospital with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days if they stayed just a little active, new research has shown.

In fact, being physically active prior to entering the hospital in the first place was also likely to keep them from returning once they’d been there, the researchers learned.

"Stay active even if you have COPD."

This research was led by Huong Nguyen, PhD, RN, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Dr. Nguyen and colleagues did a retrospective study looking at the electronic health records of 4,596 patients admitted to a large integrated health system in Southern California and discharged between January 2011 and December 31, 2012. They also looked at health data of those patients for 12 months prior to their admission to the hospital.

All of the patients were 40 years old or older and had been admitted to the hospital for COPD. COPD is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe, and the leading cause is a history of smoking cigarettes.

Patients were asked about their ordinary level of activity prior to hospitalization and at every outpatient visit. The researchers divided patients into three groups based on their level of physical activity: those who were not physically active, those who were active for less than 150 minutes a week (considered insufficiently active) and those who exercised 150 minutes per week or more (considered the active group). The questionnaire also typically asked how often the participants engaged in moderate to vigorous activity, such as a brisk walk.

Participants in this study self-reported their exercise.

In all, 18 percent of patients were readmitted in the 30 days after their hospitalization.

Those who were active were 34 percent less likely to be readmitted than those who did not report engaging in any exercise.

Many patients who were not sufficiently active were still active enough to stay out of the hospital — their readmission rate was 33 percent lower than that of the inactive group.

Anyone who reported being physically active prior to being hospitalized was less likely to be readmitted.

There were numerous risk factors for readmission, including a history of previous hospitalizations, a longer length of stay in hospital and having major co-morbidities (other health issues).

"Many health care systems are currently focused on providing interventions at or soon after hospital discharge to reduce readmissions," Dr. Nguyen said in a press release.

"This study is novel in that we were able to capture information about patients' usual physical activity well before the initial hospitalization and provides evidence that supports the promotion of physical activity across the COPD care continuum," Dr. Nguyen said. "Our findings suggest that regular physical activity could buffer the stresses of hospitalization. Future studies will focus on determining whether we can reduce hospitalizations by improving physical activity in patients with COPD."

Jack Newman, a dailyRx Contributing Expert who is known in Texas and across the country as one of the finest junior development coaches, is very familiar with how physical activity can help people bounce back and stay out of the hospital. "There is no doubt from our collective experience," Newman told dailyRx News, "that athletes in training definitely recover faster and have less chance of being readmitted for hospital stays. Athletes in training are fitter and their bodies respond quickly."

While COPD patients don't need to exercise at the level of athletes, this study suggests that just a bit of exercise might lower their chances of being readmitted to the hospital.

This study appears in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

The authors disclosed no conflicting interests.

Review Date: 
April 9, 2014
Last Updated:
April 10, 2014