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Christian Osadnik: the effectiveness of downhill walking in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

My name is Christian Osadnik and I was recently awarded an ERS/ELF Fellowship to move to Leuven, Belgium for one year to research ways to improve the health and wellbeing of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

I am a physiotherapist from Melbourne, Australia. I will post some blogs along the way to keep you updated about my experiences.

The beginning 

Where is Leuven? This may seem silly, but I had not heard of Leuven until my application for this position! After a bit of Googling I realised Leuven is the place at the bottom of a Stella Artois beer bottle label. Then, later, realised it is also a beautiful town not too far away from Brussels.

The journey to Leuven was long…21 hours of flying from Melbourne. But it felt longer, as my wife and I were also flying with our two children, aged three and one, who only managed to sleep at the same time as each other 15 minutes before landing in Brussels…

Livin’ la vida Leuven

It took about a week to get familiar with our new setting and some of the local customs. Things like riding bikes on the wrong side of the road and walking on cobble stones (which my one-year old daughter does extraordinarily well for someone who has not been walking for very long!).

And, of course, speaking Dutch (well, trying to speak Dutch). I have lived my whole life in Australia, but am able to speak some German, which I am finding quite useful (my heritage is part Australian, part Polish, part German).


I am doing my research at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven with my supervisor, Professor Thierry Troosters. I am based at Universitair Ziekenhuis Leuven, Gasthuisberg with a great team of about 12 physiotherapists, who are all doing research in COPD. The group here is particularly interested in improving the health of people with COPD through exercise (pulmonary rehabilitation).

Did you know that if you have COPD, you should be performing regular exercise and keeping active as much as possible? Walking is one of the simplest and best types of exercise you can do, and physiotherapists have an important role in helping people with COPD to exercise whilst managing symptoms such as breathlessness.

We have recently shown that if you walk downhill, your legs tend to get tired or work harder, but (perhaps surprisingly) people with COPD get less breathless than when they walk on a flat surface. The project I am involved with hopes to find out whether pulmonary rehabilitation with downhill treadmill walking is better than the usual benefits we see after ‘normal’ rehabilitation. We have 10 people participating in the trial at the moment, with the first couple having recently finished.

I will keep you posted with more news as it comes to hand…

LeuvenKatholieke Universiteit Leuven