More movement tied to lower risks of hospitalization for common health conditions

Audrey Abella
18 Apr 2023
More movement tied to lower risks of hospitalization for common health conditions

Individuals engaging in more physical activities had lower risks of hospitalization for a multitude of common health conditions, according to a prospective cohort study using data from the UK Biobank.

“Higher physical activity levels are associated with lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, but associations with many common and less severe health conditions are not known,” said the researchers. “[In our] study, we found that higher levels of accelerometer-measured physical activity were associated with lower risks of hospitalization for nine of 25 common conditions examined.”

Higher total physical activity was associated with a lower risk of first hospitalization following accelerometer evaluation (n=48,560 admitted to hospital; HR per 1 SD, 0.96). [JAMA Netw Open 2023;6:e2256186]

Higher levels of accelerometer-measured physical activity were tied to lower risks of hospitalization for venous thromboembolism (HR per 1 SD, 0.82), pneumonia (HR per 1 SD, 0.83), ischaemic stroke (HR per 1 SD, 0.85), iron deficiency anaemia (HR per 1 SD, 0.91), diverticular disease (HR per 1 SD, 0.94), and colon polyps (HR per 1 SD, 0.96).

The largest risk reductions were for gallbladder disease (HR per 1 SD, 0.74), urinary tract infections (HR per 1 SD, 0.76), and diabetes (HR per 1 SD, 0.79).

According to the population-attributable risk estimates, increasing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA; eg, jogging, walking the dog) by 20 minutes daily was associated with reductions in hospitalization, ranging from 3.8 percent (colon polyps) to 23.0 percent (diabetes).

“[Our] findings suggest that aiming to increase MVPA by 20 minutes daily could yield substantial reductions in hospitalizations and may be a useful nonpharmaceutical intervention to reduce healthcare burdens and improve quality of life,” said the researchers.

However, there were positive associations between higher physical activity and carpal tunnel syndrome (HR per 1 SD, 1.28), osteoarthritis (HR per 1 SD, 1.15), and inguinal hernia (HR per 1 SD, 1.13), which were largely driven by light physical activity (LPA; eg, self-care, cooking).

“[The] risks of these conditions have consistently been associated with jobs requiring manual labour … [Nonetheless,] the associations between MVPA and these conditions were null,” the researchers noted. Further studies should be conducted to ascertain the types of LPA that could have contributed to these associations, and to determine interventions for risk management, they added.


Physical activity is important

The study used data from a subset of UK Biobank participants (n=81,717; mean age at accelerometer assessment 61.5 years, 56 percent female). They were instructed to wear an accelerometer for a week. They were followed for over a median of 6.8 years.

“The wide range of protective associations observed in these analyses across multiple physiological organ systems highlighted the many benefits of physical activity,” the researchers stressed.

Some of the mechanisms that could be responsible for the protective associations were enhanced immune competency, improved cardiopulmonary health and insulin sensitivity, and decreased systemic inflammation. [Front Immunol 2018;9:648; Front Physiol 2013;4:332; Oxid Med Cell Longev 2019;2019:3756750; BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med 2017;2:e000143; Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis 2020;1866:165823]

“Our findings reaffirm the many benefits of physical activity and provided evidence that increasing MVPA levels may help to lower hospital burdens,” they continued. “Our results also highlight the need … to implement effective policies to increase physical activity in the population and the important role of clinicians in encouraging patients to increase their physical activity.”

It has yet to be determined whether increased movement equates to greater reductions in the risk of these conditions. As such, future studies should look into the link between higher-intensity physical activity and magnitudes of disease risk.


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