Regular contact with healthcare professionals, support from peers and engaging in organised exercise could help people with chronic lung conditions to lead more active - and generally better lives, according to new research.
Physical inactivity in those with COPD, a common and preventable respiratory condition that is manageable, but is not currently curable, can lead to poor prognosis across the course of the disease, including increased risk of hospitalisation and death.
Research has previously shown that pulmonary rehabilitation, a treatment of exercise and education in the NHS, can improve fitness, reduce shortness of breath and enhance quality of life in people with COPD. People with COPD report that they enjoy pulmonary rehabilitation and value support from healthcare professionals during the programme. However, the average duration of pulmonary rehabilitation programmes in the NHS are between 6 to 8 weeks.
Published in the journal Primary Care Respiratory Medicines, the study shows that regular contact with healthcare professionals, including feedback about progress and achievements, is important to motivate people with COPD to be physically active following pulmonary rehabilitation. The research, carried out by the universities of Oxford and Lincoln in the UK, found that interaction with their peers can provide patients with a sense of solidarity and support after rehabilitation and access to regular organised exercise sessions help them to establish a routine.
Dr Arwel Jones, Research Fellow at the Lincoln Institute for Health at the University of Lincoln, UK said: ‘Being physically active is extremely important for people with COPD, however, people with the disease find it difficult to remain physically active once they have finished pulmonary rehabilitation.’
The findings reveal that people with COPD face barriers to remaining active following pulmonary rehabilitation, including social isolation, restricted access to exercise sessions in the community, and symptoms of their condition such as breathlessness that evoked anxiety or fear and make them avoid activities.
The team say the results could offer important insights for clinicians and healthcare professionals to consider in delivering long-term COPD management. Dr Jones added: ‘By telling us the key barriers and facilitators for remaining physically active, our findings will hopefully lead us to being able to provide better long-term support for people with COPD.’
Explaining the importance of the approach used in the work, Dr Veronika Williams, Departmental Lecturer at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, said: ‘This study shows the importance of synthesising qualitative studies to gain a better understanding of patients' experiences in engaging with complex health interventions.
‘This is the first qualitative systematic review providing evidence of patients' experiences of physical activity post pulmonary rehabilitation’.
Researchers analysed data from international research studies which used interviews and focus groups to gather insights into the experiences of COPD patients.
Hayley Robinson, who led the study as part of her PhD in the promotion of physical activity in COPD at the University of Lincoln, said: ‘People living with COPD often tell us that they have difficulty in maintaining a physically active lifestyle.
‘The results provide clear guidance for future research design and we hope that the research can be used to inform future strategies in the NHS to promote physical activity after pulmonary rehabilitation’.