- A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that not only does physical activity decrease people’s risk of developing health problems but it prevents them from being hospitalized as well.
- Researchers evaluated the health data of over 81,000 patients between the ages of 42 to 78.
- Physical activity can boost immune function, improve insulin sensitivity, and benefit heart and lung health.
New research has found that it doesn’t take much daily exercise to help keep people with a variety of health conditions out of the hospital.
It’s well known that regular exercise is linked to a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, however, until this report, it’s been unclear how exercise impacts the risk of common, less severe health conditions.
The study, which published in JAMA Network Open in February, found that as little as 20 minutes of daily physical activity decrease people’s risk of developing health problems — like anemia and gallbladder disease — and it also prevents them from being hospitalized for the conditions as well.
A second study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine Tuesday, similarly found that 11 minutes of exercise a day, or 75 minutes a week, is enough to prevent heart disease, stroke, and various cancers. That report, a meta-analysis evaluating 196 peer-reviewed articles, concluded that 75 minutes of moderate exercise a week — which could be going on a brisk walk, hiking, cycling, or dancing — can reduce the risk of early death by 23%.
The research adds to the evidence that physical activity is associated with better health outcomes.
“This study provides additional insights about the association between physical activity and lower risk of hospitalization for various conditions that are not typically linked with physical fitness, such as urinary tract infections, gallbladder disease, and pneumonia,” says Dr. Jimmy Johannes, pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, CA.
Greater physical activity means fewer health problems
To determine how regular exercise impacts the risk of hospitalization for some of the most common health conditions, the researchers evaluated the health data of over 81,000 patients between the ages of 42 to 78.
Each participant received a wrist-worn activity tracker for a one-week period.
The team then analyzed how physical activity impacted the participants’ risk of developing a health issue and being hospitalized for it.
They found that, in general, the more people exercised, the lower their risk of developing common health conditions — like diabetes, pneumonia, ischemic stroke, gallbladder disease, iron-deficiency anemia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), colon polyps, venous thromboembolism, and diverticular disease — was.
Greater physical activity was also associated with a lower risk of being hospitalized.
Exercising 20 additional minutes each day was associated with a 3.8% lower risk of being hospitalized for colon polyps, for example, and a 23% lower risk of being hospitalized for diabetes.
According to the researchers, the findings suggest that exercising for at least 20 minutes a day may be an effective, non-pharmaceutical intervention for staying out of the hospital.
“I think this is more supporting evidence that increased physical activity is associated with better health outcomes,” Johannes said.
According to Johannes, it’s important to note that some of the participants may be prone to hospitalization due to health issues that also prevent them from being able to workout.
Why exercise can protect our health
There’s no shortage of evidence showing that regular exercise can lower the risk of health conditions and keep people out of the hospital.
A report from 2020 found that, in general, the more people move, the longer they live.
That study found that “adults who took 8,000 or more steps a day had a significantly reduced risk of death over the following decade than those who only walked 4,000 steps a day,” says Dr. Michael Fredericson, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Stanford Health Care.
Physical activity can boost immune function, improve insulin sensitivity, and benefit heart and lung health.
Exercise also lowers inflammation in the body and reduce risk factors, like high blood pressure and obesity, that exist for a number of health conditions.
“It may also reduce the risk of comorbidities, such as ischemic heart disease, diabetes, and deconditioning, which can complicate an illness,” Johannes said.
Physical activity also helps people sleep better and manage their stress levels, Fredericson added.
Tips for exercising more regularly
Going on daily walks is a great starting point and is attainable for many people.
“I generally recommend starting out with 10 to 15 minutes of walking per day, 2 to 3 days per week and gradually increasing the time, intensity, and days per week,” Johannes said.
Some other options include cycling, running, resistance training, swimming, tennis or pickleball, tai chi, says Fredericson.
For those who have difficulty scheduling in physical activity, it may be worth getting a fitness tracker to monitor daily steps, Johannes says.
He recommends aiming for at least 5,000 steps a day — but, when it comes to physical activity, anything is better than nothing.
Past research has found that even one to two-minute bursts of exercise can boost your health.
Short, quick bursts of physical activity — think jogging to the bus, playing with your dog, or running up the steps — is associated with a significantly lower risk of death.
“Exercise doesn’t have to be continuous and can be broken down into several segments throughout the day with the same health benefits,” Fredericson said.
The bottom line
Twenty minutes of exercise a day can help keep people with a variety of health conditions out of the hospital, according to new research. In general, the more people exercise, the lower their risk of developing common health conditions — and being hospitalized for them — is.
A second study out February 28 found that as little as 11 minutes of exercise per day can help you decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, and various cancers.
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