Study Finds that Physical Activity Declines in COPD Patients Regardless of Severity

When you think of someone with COPD not being able to move as well as they used to, you might think that it has to do with how severe their condition was when they were diagnosed. You might think your activity level will drop when you are severely chronically ill, but if your COPD is mild and caught earlier on, your physical activity won't decline.

A recent study from the Pulmonary Research Institute at LungenClinic Grosshansdorf in Germany found that this is not the case. However, as long as you keep up with physical activity and exercise under the guidance of your doctor, you can slow this decline down.

COPD patients physical activity declined over time because of the worsening of airflow obstruction. COPD is a disease that gets worse over time. With the increased airflow, obstruction comes fatigue and a decrease in energy, because the cells of the body aren't getting enough oxygen over the long term.

The study in Germany was lead by Dr. Benjamin Waschki, MD, and they closely monitored the physical activity and a variety of pulmonary and general health outcomes of 137 COPD patients over a 3-year period. There were also 26 patients with chronic bronchitis who were considered to be at risk.

Some were given a certain number of steps to walk per day while others were given a different number, to see if more physical activity made any difference on how much their health declined. Their lung function was also closely monitored, to see how it corresponded with the amount of physical activity.

Overall, 24% of the patients hadn't been physically active, or they had only been doing the minimum amount of movement on a regular basis. They had a great decline in muscle mass and exercise tolerance, and had a much harder time doing a basic monitored walking activity. This 24% had COPD in different severity, but their health declined at very close to the same rate.

The authors of the published study wrote:

"[A] sustained a low level of physical activity is related to a progression of exercise intolerance and muscle depletion in all patients with COPD," the authors write. "Interestingly, sustained physical inactivity was not associated with a progression of airflow obstruction or a worsening of health status."

This study has proved that increasing physical activity will help keep COPD patients feeling healthier longer:

"Recent guidelines advocate regular physical activity for patients with COPD at all severity stages despite the fact that little COPD-specific evidence exists.... Our data clearly support this recommendation, because a sustained low level of physical activity over time is associated with an accelerated progression of exercise intolerance and muscle depletion. Furthermore, we have demonstrated that physical activity decreases early in the course of the disease, along with a worsening of lung function and health status."

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