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Breathe Easy: Study Reveals Regular Exercise Dramatically Cuts Hospital Visits for Lung Disease Patients

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 22, 2024

A new medical research study from The BMJ Open Respiratory Research journal has shed light on the significant role that regular physical activity plays in the health outcomes of those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a common respiratory condition that's a leading cause of death worldwide. The article, titled "Impacts of regular physical activity on hospitalisation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a nationwide population-based study”, reveals compelling findings on how different levels of physical activity can affect the rate of hospital visits and hospitalization among individuals with this lung disease.


COPD affects approximately 10% of adults, contributing to a massive health and economic burden due to the frequent need for emergency care and hospital admissions. Such medical emergencies not only strain healthcare systems financially but also significantly reduce the patients' quality of life, increase the risk of further diseases, and lead to higher death rates. The study is particularly valuable because research on the relationship between physical activity levels and emergency department (ED) visits or hospitalization specifically among COPD patients has been limited, especially within the context of the Korean healthcare system.


The study explored the risk of all-cause and respiratory-related ED visits or hospitalizations with respect to the presence or absence of COPD and the levels of physical activity, using data from a retrospective cohort of 330,308 subjects without COPD and 3,308 with COPD, taken from the National Health Insurance Service-National Sample Cohort (NHIS-NSC) in Korea. The timeframe for this data spanned from 2009 to 2017.


The study's results were clear: individuals with COPD who maintained higher levels of physical activity had lower risks of both all-cause and respiratory-specific hospital visits and admissions. The relative risk for these events was consistently higher in the COPD group across all levels of physical activity compared to an active control group who engaged in 1500 or more Metabolic Equivalents (METs)-minutes/week (a measure of energy expenditure in physical activity). Sedentary individuals with COPD, those with the lowest levels of physical activity, faced the highest risk. Furthermore, for every 500 MET-minutes/week increase in physical activity, there was a notable decrease in all-cause and respiratory ED visits or hospitalizations for those with COPD.

Conclusions and Implications

This research highlights the importance of regular physical activity in managing COPD, with active lifestyles linked to better health outcomes and fewer hospital visits. This evidence underscores the need for interventions and policy changes that support increased physical activity among COPD patients.

The study addressed not only the correlation between physical activity and hospitalization rates in COPD patients but also provided quantitative evidence using METs-minutes/week as a measure of activity levels. This approach allows for a more objective assessment of physical activity's impact on COPD outcomes beyond traditional measures such as daily steps or breathlessness.

Significance: Expert's Take

The research reinforces the concept that physical activity is an independent predictor of COPD exacerbation and hospitalization risk. As a result, promoting regular physical activity could be a powerful strategy in reducing the disease burden of COPD.

In conclusion, by quantifying physical activity levels and their effects on emergency department visits and hospitalizations, this study not only contributes valuable insights for the medical community but also offers tangible evidence for COPD patients and healthcare policymakers. The findings suggest that fostering a more active lifestyle can be a critical component in managing COPD, potentially leading to decreased healthcare utilization and improved patient outcomes.


Yang B, Lee H, Ryu J, et alImpacts of regular physical activity on hospitalisation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a nationwide population-based studyBMJ Open Respiratory Research 2024;11:e001789. doi: 10.1136/bmjresp-2023-001789