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Increased physical activity lowers hospitalisation risk for wide range of health conditions

Increased physical activity has been found to produce a reduction in the risk of hospitalisations across a broad range of health conditions

US and UK researchers have found that increased physical activity reduces the risk of hospitalisation for a wide range of health conditions, highlighting the potential value of this non-pharmacological intervention.

It has become widely recognised that increased physical activity (PA) is associated with a reduced risk of many different types of cancer as well as cardiovascular-related conditions such as diabetes and ischaemic stroke events. However, whether greater levels of PA impact on other less severe health conditions is less clear. Although assessment of PA levels in previous prospective studies has been largely self-reported, this introduces both measurement error and bias. One means of overcoming such limitations is through the use of accelerometers, which can measure the frequency, duration and intensity of any PA.

In the present study, researchers investigated the link between an accelerometer measured change in physical activity and the subsequent risk of hospitalisation for 25 different conditions and which included gallbladder disease, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and iron deficiency anaemia. In addition, the team also estimated the proportion of these hospitalisations which could have been avoided by swapping 20 minutes of sedentary behaviour for 20 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Researchers used participant data held in the UK Biobank, focusing on those who wore an accelerometer for one week.

Increased physical activity and hospitalisations

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Data were available for 81,717 participants with a mean age of 61.5 years (56.4% female) and who were followed for a median of 6.8 years.

Increased levels of accelerometer measured physical activity were associated with a statistically significantly lower risk of hospitalisation for 9 conditions. These included gallbladder disease (Hazard Ratio, HR per 1 standard deviation increase = 0.74, 95% CI 0.69 – 079, p < 0.001), urinary tract infections (HR = 0.76, p < 0.001), pneumonia (HR = 0.83, p < 0.001) and iron deficiency anaemia (HR = 0.91, p = 0.02).

In addition, researchers calculated that replacing 20 minutes of sedentary time with moderate to vigorous activity, also significantly reduced the risk of hospitalisation for many of the conditions, e.g. gall bladder disease (HR = 0.80), pneumonia (HR = 0.86) and iron deficiency anaemia (HR = 0.91).

The authors concluded that increased physical activity was significantly associated with a reduced risk of hospitalisation for a broad range of health conditions and that increasing activity by 20 minutes per day could serve as a useful intervention to improve quality of life.

Watts EL et al. Association of Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity Level With Risks of Hospitalization for 25 Common Health Conditions in UK Adults. JAMA Netw Open 2023