Summary A number of predisposing factors are recognised as increasing the risk of developing chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). There is increasing recognition that COPD may be an inflammatory disease with systemic consequences. However, the trigger for the transition from ‘at risk’ (stage 0) to COPD state remains unclear. The current approach to intervention for the ‘at risk’ group is risk factor avoidance. We propose that if interventions shown to improve chronic respiratory symptoms in COPD sufferers could be applied to the ‘at risk’ group, then moderation or even reversal of the changes typical of this transition becomes a possibility. Exercise training has been shown to be beneficial at all stages of COPD. Mobility of the chest wall influences lung function. We hypothesise that the application to ‘at risk’ individuals (stage 0) of therapeutic interventions known to improve chronic respiratory symptoms and cardiovascular function in mild/moderate COPD (stages 1 and 2) could delay progression of the disease (i.e. manifestation of mild/moderate COPD). If the hypothesis were confirmed, the potential to delay or even prevent the onset of COPD would be feasible.