Mid-Life Cardiovascular Fitness Prevents and Moderates COPD


Regular exercise can be an effective way to delay the onset and acceleration of COPD.

cardiovascular fitness

Here’s yet another reason to head out to the gym: results from a recent study show that men who exercised regularly in midlife had lower rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Published in Thorax, the Danish study concluded that healthy middle-aged men with good midlife cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) levels had a lower long-term risk of incident COPD as well as death from COPD. The cohort study followed 5,286 men, between 40 and59 years of age, recruited from 14 sizable workplaces in Copenhagen from 1970 to 1971 and followed for decades. The participants included men who had never smoked, those who had once smoked, and some who still smoked during the study. 

When the study began recruiting participants, 70% of the men were active smokers. Lung function declines gradually with age and smoking speeds up the decline. Smoking is also the primary cause of COPD.

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Even though the study recruited many current smokers, those with the highest CRF still saw benefits. Compared to men who had a low CRF in midlife, men who had a high CRF had a lower risk of incident COPD and death from COPD by approximately one third and one half, respectively. High midlife CRF delayed the time to both diagnosis and death by 1.5 to 2 years. 

Study authors said it was possible that physically active participants were more resilient and had fewer symptoms, so it took longer for them to see a doctor, but there was no explanation for the ability of fitness levels to reduce the incidence of death from COPD.

While exercise can delay the onset and severity of COPD, patients who have already been diagnosed may find that a regular exercise routine can also help them participate in more daily activities without getting winded or tired. While it may seem counterintuitive to suggest exercise to someone who has trouble breathing, cardiorespiratory exercise strengthens respiratory muscles, thus making it easier to breathe. 

Before starting any exercise program, a person who has COPD may want to discuss the regimen with a doctor. In general, recommended fitness regimens for people with COPD include cardiovascular exercises such as walking, jogging, bicycling or swimming. Jumping rope, skating, low impact aerobics, and strength training with weights or bands are also recommended.


The good news is that participating in a regular exercise program can be an effective way for men to delay the onset and acceleration of COPD.

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