Obesity, Lack of Exercise Linked to COPD

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr Gundula Behrens
Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine
University of Regensburg
Franz-Josef-Strauss-Allee 11
93053 Regensburg, Germany

Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr Behrens: We studied the relations of obesity and physical activity to the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among more than 100,000 middle-aged to elderly men and women living in the U.S. People with a large waist circumference (43.5 inches (110 cm) or over in women and 46.5 inches (118 cm) or over in men) had a 72% increased risk of COPD as compared to people with a normal waist circumference. In contrast, individuals who were physically active five times or more per week had a 29% decreased risk of COPD as compared to their physically inactive counter-parts.

Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr Behrens: Primary risk factors for COPD include exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, and occupational dust damaging the lungs. Our study suggests that adiposity and lack of physical activity may represent additional risk factors for COPD. This may be surprising to some readers. However, adiposity and lack of physical activity have been linked to increased chronic inflammation, which again may potentially stimulate COPD-related processes in the lung.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr Behrens: Our findings suggest that next to smoking cessation and the prevention of smoking initiation, meeting guidelines for waist circumference and physical activity may represent important individual and public health opportunities to decrease the risk of COPD. According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), the waist circumference should not exceed 35 inches (88 cm) in women and 40 inches (102 cm) in men. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends engaging in 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five times per week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise at least three days per week. Physicians should encourage their patients to adhere to these guidelines as a means of preventing chronic diseases in general and possibly COPD in particular.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr Behrens: Our prospective study is the first to investigate waist circumference in relation to COPD. Future studies need to confirm our results indicating that abdominal adiposity increases the risk of COPD. Our findings suggesting that a high level of physical activity may potentially prevent COPD are consistent with two small previous studies. However, future studies are needed to specify the most beneficial type (e.g. aerobic or resistance), intensity (e.g. light, moderate, vigorous), frequency and duration of physical activity.


Body Size and Physical Activity in Relation To Incidence Of COPD
CMAJ cmaj.140025; published ahead of print July 7, 2014, doi:10.1503/cmaj.140025

Gundula Behrens, Charles E. Matthews, Steven C. Moore, Albert R. Hollenbeck, and Michael F. Leitzmann