Rationale: Little is known about the role of physical activity in the course of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Objectives: To assess changes in physical activity in COPD in relation to severity stages and changes in other disease components, and to evaluate the longitudinal association between sustained physical inactivity and disease progression.
Methods: In this prospective cohort study, we measured physical activity (multisensory armband), airflow obstruction (FEV1), health status (St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire), exercise capacity (6-min-walk distance [6MWD]), muscle mass (fat-free mass [FFM]), and systemic inflammation (fibrinogen and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein) over a 3-year period in 137 patients with COPD and 26 with chronic bronchitis (normal spirometry).
Measurements and main results: Independent of baseline disease severity, steps per day, total daily energy expenditure, and (daily) physical activity level (PAL) decreased by 393, 76 kcal, and 0.04 per year, respectively. The decline in PAL was significantly associated with a decline in FEV1 and an increase in St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire total score. Changes in 6MWD, FFM, and inflammatory markers were not associated with changes in PAL. Independent of FEV1, sustained physical inactivity (i.e., PAL(T0andT1) < 1.40) was related to a greater decline in 6MWD and FFM compared with that in patients with some level of activity (i.e., PAL(T0and/orT1) ≥ 1.40; difference, 17 m/yr and 0.87 kg/yr, respectively).
Conclusions: Over time, physical activity substantially decreases across all severity stages of COPD, and this decline is paralleled by a worsening of lung function and health status. Sustained physical inactivity is associated with a progression of exercise intolerance and muscle depletion.
Keywords: exercise; motor activity; musculoskeletal diseases; pulmonary disease; quality of life.