Exercise has consistently been linked to a reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Increasing physical activity levels is recommended in most chronic disease management guidelines.

In addition to contributing to increased rates of disease and death, physical inactivity costs the Australian healthcare system a substantial amount.

Most studies looking at the association between physical activity and healthcare service utilisation involve self-reported exercise, which can be unreliable. Researchers investigated the association between objective measures of activity and bed-days in hospital in a cohort of older Australians.

Researchers recruited Australian adults aged between 55 and 85 years. Activity was measured in terms of steps taken by a pedometer. Disease-specific hospital admissions and associated bed-days were recorded.

Increased step count, as measured by the pedometer, was associated with a reduction in hospital bed days for these older adults. Researchers estimated that taking around 4300 extra steps per day, or roughly 40 minutes of walking, equates to around 30% reduction in the need for hospital care. These findings were significant for cancer and diabetes admissions but, interestingly, not heart disease.

Implications

The cost of a day in hospital in Australia is substantial, with 2012 – 2013 estimates of $1895 per day. Researchers estimated that, based on this cost, an increase of 4300 steps per day could potentially save around $550 per year for every person who achieves this.

In addition to saving money, getting up and active makes a huge difference to overall physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The results of this study suggest that it need not be difficult – simple lifestyle changes could achieve this increased step count.

Try to catch public transport a couple of times per week, and walk to and from the bus stop or station, take the stairs at every opportunity instead of the escalator or lift and try to take your full lunch break at least a couple of times a week and go for a walk.

Last Reviewed: 15/12/2019

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

Ewald, D et al. Daily step count and the need for hospital care in subsequent years in a community-based sample of older Australians. MJA. doi: 10.5694/mja16.00640.

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