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The objective of this study was to compare the effectiveness of a short-term pulmonary rehabilitation program with brief advice given to patients with severe ventilatory impairment due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).One hundred three patients with severe COPD, defined as having forced expiratory volume in 1 second < 40% predicted, were randomly assigned to rehabilitation or to brief advice. Fifty-four patients attended a rehabilitation program twice a week for 6 weeks. Forty-nine patients attended a single session during which they were given printed educational materials and verbal advice and guidance about exercise. Subjects were reassessed at 3 months.The shuttle walking distance increased significantly in the rehabilitation group by 43 meters. The increase of 23 meters in the brief advice group was significantly less than in the rehabilitation group. Improvements in quality of life in the rehabilitation group were small and not clinically significant.In these patients with severe COPD, a short outpatient rehabilitation program of low intensity achieved small but significant improvement in shuttle walking distance, compared with brief advice. The improvements in quality of life were modest and did not reach statistical significance, although in some instances the confidence limits include differences that approach clinical significance. The relatively small effect may be due to the low intensity of the program or to the severity of the subjects’ ventilatory impairment.