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Improving COPD Outcomes with Exercise
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a general term used to describe several different diseases that are characterized by increasing breathlessness.  The restriction in breathing is caused by loss of airway and alveoli elasticity, destruction of the walls between the alveoli, thickening and inflammation of airway walls, and increased mucus production in the airways. It is estimated that COPD affects 65 million individuals globally, and approximately 90% of these patients are current or former smokers. COPD is linked to a wide range of conditions, including heart disease, pneumonia, diabetes, asthma, and depression. Physical activity has been shown to directly improve all of these diseases, and it may be the most effective way to combat them once a person is diagnosed with COPD.
Exercise is a main component in pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) for patients with COPD. It can improve quality of life, health-related costs, and overall mortality. Not all patients have access to PR, but exercise and physical activity can still benefit COPD patients. After COPD patients were discharged from a hospital following an exacerbation, ActiGraph accelerometers were worn on their wrist for 30 days. Out of the 38 patients being observed, 12 were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. The amount of time spent in higher physical activity was lower in the first week for those who were readmitted to the hospital compared to those that remained as outpatients. This shows that physical activity may be able to be used as a predictor of hospital readmission for COPD patients, and highlights the importance exercise in these patients.
A recent study estimated that the average cost for medical care for patients with COPD is $6,000 USD more than adults without COPD. By 2020 it is expected that the cost of medical care for adults with COPD will be more than $90 billion in the U.S. alone. The previous study shows that increasing physical activity is a promising way to improve that rate of hospital admissions of patients with COPD, which would result in a decrease in hospital costs and bring down the total cost of care for those with COPD.