WEDNESDAY, March 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Taking daily walks
of at least two miles can reduce hospitalizations from severe
episodes of a life-threatening breathing disorder, new research
Scientists found that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(COPD) patients without regular walking regimens had about twice
the rate of hospitalizations triggered by the condition compared to
those who maintained the highest levels of physical activity. This
was defined as walking between roughly two and four miles each
"Of course, daily walking acts to improve the exercise capacity of these patients," said study author Dr. Cristobal Esteban, a staff member in the respiratory service at Hospital Galdakao-Usansolo, in Spain. "Physical activity is a 'medicine' that will improve your general condition as well as COPD."
The study appeared online recently in the journal
The third-leading cause of death in the United States, COPD
claims about 134,000 lives annually, according to the American Lung
Association. COPD describes a group of progressive respiratory
conditions that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Smoking is the most common risk factor for the condition, but
others include family history and inhaling pollutants such as
fumes, chemicals and dust, according to the COPD Foundation.
For the new study, Esteban and his team recruited about 550 COPD
patients from five Spanish respiratory clinics. The researchers
calculated participants' exercise totals based on self-reported
tallies of the distance they walked during the course of a week.
The data was compared to hospitalization records and patients were
tracked for at least two years.
Patients who maintained moderate or high level of exercise --
which in most cases equated to a walking regimen -- were
hospitalized only 53 percent as often as those who didn't walk
regularly, Esteban said.
Dr. Venessa Holland, a pulmonologist at Houston Methodist
Hospital in Texas, said the study "helps solidify what we've been
doing with patients with any obstructive lung disease."
But Holland, who wasn't involved in the research, said a "major
flaw" in the study was the self-reported patient data. "We know
people self-report by pure error," she said. "There's no real
documentation [their mileage totals] happened."
"Physical activity is important, as with all diseases, to improving health and quality of life," she said. "People used to think that if you have COPD, you shouldn't be physically active. This reinforces that you should."
Study author Esteban recommended that COPD patients -- who may
have difficulty trekking long distances due to breathlessness --
walk routinely with others or even with a dog to keep motivation
levels high. Holland agreed, saying the support of family members
and health care providers is crucial to help these patients stick
with a walking regimen.
"If they're motivated, they'll continue," Holland said. "I can't tell you how many patients I have with severe lung disease who I haven't had to hospitalize, but they're proactive about physical activity."
To learn more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, visit
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