Less Physical Activity Equals Worse COPD Outcomes

Researchers have found that lack of physical activity among individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) leads to further deterioration in the health of patients with the disease.

According to lead author Benjamin Waschki, MD, of the Pulmonary Research Institute at LungenClinic in Grosshansdorf, Germany, and colleagues, decreased physical activity results in declining lung function and overall health in these patients. The investigators also note a connection between sustained inactivity and the progression of muscle loss as well as an inability to exercise.

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The authors studied more than 130 individuals with COPD, finding that their physical activity decreased each year. These declines, they said, occurred regardless of the disease’s severity, and reduced physical activity was associated with increased breathing problems and drops in overall health, quality of life, and sense of well-being. In addition, long-term physical inactivity was linked to sharper declines in muscle mass and in 6-minute walk distance results.

Physical activity “decreases substantially across all severity stages of COPD over time,” says Waschki, noting that this decline is paralleled by a co-existing worsening of airflow obstruction and health status.

In addition, he says, a sustained low level of physical activity over time is associated with an accelerated progression of exercise intolerance and muscle depletion.

“These findings support the theory that physical inactivity occurs as an early feature within the downward disease spiral in COPD, and may causally contribute to muscle depletion and exercise intolerance,” says Waschki. “Therefore, the detection of physical inactivity—even in mild COPD—is important. The maintenance of physical activity may influence the worsening of other disease characteristics positively, which is relevant even early in the course of the disease.”

—Mark McGraw


Waschki B, Kirsten A, et al. Disease Progression and Changes in Physical Activity in Patients with COPD. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015.