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Increased Physical Activity Linked with Lower Hospitalization Risk for Common Conditions

, by Elise Tookmanian, Ph.D.

An older woman with white hair exercises on a rowing machine.
Credit: Centre for Ageing Better

It is well established that higher physical activity levels are associated with lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, but how activity level is associated with many common, less severe health conditions is not known.  In a study of 82,000 UK adults, Eleanor L. Watts, D.Phil., M.P.H., postdoctoral fellow in the Metabolic Epidemiology Branch (MEB) and colleagues, observed that higher levels of physical activity measured by accelerometer were associated with a decreased risk of hospitalization from nine common conditions, including colon polyps and urinary tract infections. This study was published in JAMA Network Open on February 16th, 2023.

Dr. Watts and colleagues used accelerometer data from the UK Biobank, in which a subset of the prospective cohort, aged 42-78 years, wore an accelerometer for one week to measure their physical activity. This data was linked to national hospital admissions data for the 25 most common reasons for hospitalization. The team observed that increasing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by 20 minutes per day was associated with significant reductions in hospitalization for nine of the 25 conditions studied. These conditions included urinary tract infection, iron deficiency anemia, and colon polyps for which relationships with physical activity have not been well characterized.  Some of these conditions, like colon polyps, can directly precede the development of cancer. 

These findings underscore that physical activity positively affects a wide range of physiological systems, but more research is needed to understand the disease-specific mechanisms through which physical activity can lower risk. Future research should also examine the role of different types of physical activity such as muscle strengthening exercise.  


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.