BACKGROUND: In healthy elderly and adults, lower physical activity level in daily life has been associated with lower socio-economic level and non-Caucasian race. The objective of this study was to determine if this is also applicable in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by comparing physical activity levels in daily life in stable patients from two countries (Austria and Brazil) with different socio-economic and ethnic characteristics. METHODS: Physical activity in daily life was objectively assessed in 40 Austrian and 40 Brazilian COPD patients. Groups were matched for age, gender, body mass index, disease severity, smoking history, presence of concomitant heart disease, lung function, dyspnea and functional exercise capacity. In addition, climatic conditions were similar during the period of data collection in the two groups. RESULTS: In comparison to Brazilian patients, Austrian patients had a significantly lower walking time (p=0.04), higher sitting time (p=0.02) and lower movement intensity (p=0.0001). The proportion of patients who did not reach an average of 30min of walking per day was 48% in the Austrian group and 23% in the Brazilian group. CONCLUSIONS: Austrian patients with COPD showed a significantly lower daily physical activity level in comparison to matched Brazilian patients. Socio-economic and ethnic factors appear to influence stable COPD patients differently than described in previous studies including healthy subjects.