Middle-aged and older adults (ages 40-79) who engage in any form of physical activity are significantly less likely to have frequent or extended hospital stays, according to a new U.K. study published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.
The findings show that inactive participants spent slightly over 4 days more in the hospital during the next ten years compared to those who did at least some form of physical activity, whether for work or leisure. And similar results were seen 10 years later when the same participants were 50-90 years old.
The research, conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care and MRC Epidemiology Unit, is based on a general British population study of 25,639 men and women, ages 40-79, living in Norfolk who were recruited from general practices between 1993 and 1997.
The participants completed a lifestyle questionnaire in which they reported their total levels of physical activity. Occupational activity was assessed using a four category question (“sedentary,” “standing,” “moderate physical work” and “heavy manual work”) with examples such as office worker, shop assistant, plumber and construction worker respectively.
Leisure activity in both summer and winter was calculated from the number of hours per week spent cycling, attending keep fit classes or aerobics and swimming or jogging. Estimated average hours of leisure activity was calculated as the mean of summer and winter activities.
Based on a score combining leisure and occupational elements, participants were categorized as “inactive,” “moderately inactive,” “moderately active” and “active.”
The study found that those with a physical activity score of at least “moderately inactive” had fewer hospital admissions and fewer days in hospital, than those who were “inactive.”
Within the first 10 years, active participants were 25-27% less likely than inactive participants to have more than 20 hospital days or more than 7 admissions per year with similar results over the subsequent ten years.
The team also found that among 9,827 study participants with repeated measurements, those who remained physically active or increased their activity were 34% less likely to spend 20 days in hospital.
The researchers also calculated that for every inactive person who starts to engage in at least some exercise, the NHS could save around £247 ($304) per year. This would equal around 7% of the U.K.’s per capita health expenditure.
“Our study provides some of the clearest evidence yet that small, feasible increases in usual physical activity substantially reduce the future hospital usage of middle-aged and older people, and would significantly ease pressure on the NHS,” said lead author Dr. Robert Luben from the Institute of Public Health.
Although previous research has suggested that pre-admission physical activity programs may lower the duration of hospital stays, these are short term, require funding and are targeted to a limited number of individuals. But these new findings indicate that usual physical activity patterns in the general population predict hospital usage over the next two decades.
The researchers note that participants may be physically inactive because of known or preclinical illness which may also predispose them to increased later hospitalization. However, analyses excluding those with a self-reported chronic disease at baseline (heart attack, stroke or cancer), and excluding hospital admissions occurring in the first five years of follow-up, did not differ materially from the main findings.
Source: University of Cambridge