Exercise eases chronic pain in obesity

21 June 2011

Just a small amount of weekly physical exercise can reduce chronic (long-term) muscular pain associated with obesity, a study suggests.

Drawing on data from 30,000 adults in Norway, researchers estimated that people with obesity have a 20 per cent increased risk of chronic pain in both the low back and neck or shoulders.

The authors found that the hours of physical exercise undertaken every week were linearly and inversely associated with the risk of chronic pain at these body sites - the more hours of exercise, the smaller the risk of pain.

The study participants, aged 20 years or older, filled in questionnaires about physical exercise frequency and muscle and joint  symptoms and had their body mass and height measurements recorded.

Exercising for between one and 2 hours per week compensated, to some extent, for the adverse effect of high body mass index (BMI) on risk of chronic pain, the researchers found.

"However, analyses of high-intensity versus low-intensity exercise showed no major differences in the estimated [effect]," they said.

They concluded that accumulating 1-2 hours of low- to moderate-intensity physical exercise over 7 days "should be manageable for most people" and would have an important public health benefit as well as impacting on the economy by reducing sick leave.

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