Many chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients suffering from progressive dyspnoea, or shortness of breath, tend to lead sedentary lives. Thinking they can’t or shouldn’t be physically active, they sit or lay down for significant periods day after day. Over time, such inactivity reduces cardiovascular fitness, muscle function and bone mass. Studies show this behavior increases the likelihood of exacerbated events including breathlessness attacks that are severe enough to require emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Respiratory therapists recommend daily exercise for COPD patients who have difficulty enduring persistent restricted breathing. Regular activities should require more walking and standing along with less sitting and bed rest. The following research links walking on a consistent basis with better COPD control. Learn how to improve your everyday struggles by adding daily physical activity to your COPD prescription medication regimen.
How COPD Afflicts Your Lungs and Your Life
COPD is a life-threatening breathing disorder. According to the American Lung Association, it’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States with about 134,000 people succumbing to it every year. This group of progressive respiratory conditions includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms range from shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing to fatigue, frequent respiratory infections and lung destruction over time.
The COPD Foundation advises that smoking is the most common risk factor. Others include family history and inhaling pollutants such as fumes, chemicals and dust. Besides adverse physical symptoms, research shows COPD patients experience higher psychological distress, especially anxiety and depression, compared to healthy people.
Walk Away From COPD Hospitalizations
New research reports COPD patients who walked at least two miles daily decreased their hospitalization frequency for severe symptoms. The study’s 550 COPD respiratory clinic patients reported weekly walking distances. Researchers compared their exercise totals to their hospitalization records for at least two years. Patients who maintained moderate or high exercise levels equal to a walking regimen had hospitalizations only 53 percent as often as inactive people.
Scientists found that patients who didn’t walk regularly had about twice the rate of COPD-triggered hospitalizations as those whose daily physical activity routine involved walking two to four miles. They concluded that daily walking is a prescription that improves exercise capacity, COPD and overall health.
Nordic Walking Promotes COPD Recovery
During the early 20th century, Nordic walking originated in Finland as an outdoor summer training exercise for cross-country skiers. The winter endurance sport ranks as one of the most effective body workouts for burning calories, building cardiovascular fitness and reducing joint stress. A Finnish company, in cooperation with athletes and sports medicine experts, invented a new wrist strap system for the modified ski poles in 1997. Regular European citizens welcome the present-day Nordic walking technique because it’s a time-efficient, low-stress, total-body workout.
A study of 60 COPD patients with an average age of 62 showed Nordic walking enhanced their medical conditions. According to the research team, the specialized poles’ shock-absorption and slip-resistant features increase speed and muscle use. These walking aids also provide the bonuses of stability and support to help older people maintain their balance and avoid falls. Through random assignments, the study placed half of its participants in the outdoor Nordic walking group for three months and the remainder in a control group. Nordic participants walked one hour three times a week at 75 percent of their initial maximum heart rates. Patients in the control group received no exercise training.
In the Nordic group, mean walking time increased by 14.9 minutes per day. Standing time rose by 129 minutes daily. Walking intensity went up by 0.4 meters per second. Sitting time decreased by 128 minutes per day compared to the baseline. The mean increase was 79 meters, compared with the baseline for the six-minute walking distance. Mean Borg dyspnea scores also improved. Researchers noted that Nordic walkers sustained these significant improvements at six and nine months after randomization. In contrast, the control group members made no noteworthy advances in daily physical activity levels, walking distance or dyspnea scores.
The study team concluded its supervised Nordic walking program proved to be a feasible, safe and effective method to increase COPD outpatients’ daily physical activity levels. It enhanced oxygen uptake and reduced breathlessness while increasing functional exercise levels and capacities, mood and quality of life. This simple technique also decreased exercise-induced shortness of breath, anxiety and depression. Under short- and long-term observation, Nordic walking also reduced patients’ chronic symptoms and had a positive extended effect on their daily physical activity patterns. The distances COPD patients were able to cover outside on foot encouraged and empowered them to continue walking on their own.
Get on Track Today
Physical activity is an important factor for all medical conditions to improve your health and quality of life. Motivation is key for you to achieve the full benefits of exercise. Reducing symptom severity and subsequent hospital stays should inspire you to be proactive about walking. If breathlessness or unsteadiness makes trekking long distances alone challenging, walk with supportive family, friends or your dog. Nordic walking also can help you stay upright. Safe, lightweight yet durable Nordic poles are available in the U.S. You, too, can reap the health benefits of cross-country skiing without skis and snow year-round in any climate and on any surface. Get on track today to establish your health-enhancing routine, and keep it going to walk off your COPD.