The 6-min walking (6MWD) and 6-min treadmill distance (6MTD) are often used as measures of exercise performance in patients with COPD. The aim of our study was to assess their relationship to daily activity in the course of an exercise training program. Eighty-eight patients with stable COPD (71m/17f; mean +/- SD age, 60 +/-8 year; FEV1, 43+/-14% pred) were recruited, 66 of whom performed a hospital-based 10-day walking training, whereas 22 were treated as control. On day 16MTD, and on days 8 and 10, 6MTD and 6MWD were determined. In addition, patients used an accelerometer (TriTrac-R3D) to record 24 h-activity, whereby training sessions were excluded. In both groups there was a linear relationship (r > or = 0.84 and P < 0.0001) between 6MTD and 24 h-activity, the slope of which was 2.5-fold greater in the training group (P < 0.01). Similar relationships emerged for 6MWD. There was no association between baseline 6MTD, FEV1 or BMI and any of the other measures. These data suggest that daily activity did not markedly vary with exercise capacity under baseline conditions. Participation in a training program increased activity significantly stronger than predicted from the gain in exercise capacity. This underlines the importance of non-physiological, patient-centered factors associated with training in COPD.