02/20/2014 10:36 EST | Updated 02/20/2014 10:59 EST

Walking Benefits: Short Walks Can Help Respiratory Health, Journal Finds

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New research published in the journal Respirology finds that those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce their risk of hospitalization following severe attacks by walking a mere three to six kilometers each day and maintaining that regimen.

COPD is a medical term concerning emphysema and chronic bronchitis, though some people may be afflicted with both diseases.

The term refers to breathing difficulty due to long-term lung damage from smoking or other health issues such as exposure to dust, chemicals, or air pollution. A family history of COPD is another risk factor. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, labored breathing and chest tightness. Severe symptoms, or eCOPD, include acute, life-threatening breathing problems from reduced lung function.

Five Spanish respiratory clinics studied 543 COPD patients and determined exercise levels after examining how far the patients walked after one week.

The exercise findings were compared to hospitalization information from Bilbao's Hospital Galdakao-Usansolo. Researchers found those who maintained a moderate to intense fitness regimen -- which could include low-intesity activities such as walking for three to six kilometers each day -- had much lower risk of hospitalization from serious breathing issues. Those who did not exercise regularly or not often enough were at much greater risk of hospitalization.

"COPD patients are less likely to engage in regular physical activity than healthy individuals. However, regular exercise has been associated with reduced risk of hospitalization for exacerbated COPD and mortality among patients with COPD," said Dr.

Cristóbal Esteban. "Indeed, even a low level of PA [physical activity] such as walking a minimum of 2 hours per week has been associated with decreased risk of hospitalization for exacerbated COPD."

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