For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — a condition affecting 65 million people worldwide — a daily exercise regimen could help them stay out of the hospital, according to a new study. COPD is projected to be the third leading cause of death by 2020 with only heart disease and cerebrovascular disease accounting for more deaths.
Researchers from the Hospital Galdakao-Usansolo in Spain found that people with COPD — which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is considered the third leading cause of death in the U.S. — who maintain moderate or high exercise levels have a lower risk of hospitalization due to COPD symptoms, compared with those who maintain low exercise levels or don’t exercise at all.
“COPD patients are less likely to engage in regular physical activity than healthy individuals. However, regular exercise has been associated with reduced risk of hospitalization for exacerbated COPD and mortality among patients with COPD,” study researcher Dr. Cristóbal Esteban said in a statement. “Indeed, even a low level of PA such as walking a minimum of two?hours per week has been associated with decreased risk of hospitalization for exacerbated COPD.”
The study, published in the journal Respirology, included 543 people with COPD; researchers calculated their physical activity levels by asking them how far they walked a day, for at least three days a week. They followed up with the participants at least two years later.
Researchers found that those who maintained low physical activity levels had a higher rate of hospitalization. Meanwhile, those who had high physical activity levels at the start of the study but who decreased their exercise levels throughout the study also had a higher hospitalization rate.
Therefore, “changes to a higher level of PA [physical activity] or maintaining a moderate or high level of PA over time, with a low intensity activity such as walking for at least 3–6?km/day, could reduce the rate of hospitalizations for eCOPD,” they wrote in the study. (Three to six kilometers is equivalent to 1.9 to 3.7 miles.)
Other exercises have been shown to be beneficial for COPD patients, too. A recent European Respiratory Journal article showed that the ancient Chinese exercise of Tai Chi could help people with COPD be more capable of exercise. And another small study, presented at a meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, showed that yoga classes could improve lung functioning and breathing among COPD patients.