Background While physical activity interventions have been reported to reduce hospital stays, it is not clear if, in the general population, usual physical activity patterns may be associated with subsequent hospital use independently of other lifestyle factors. We examined the relationship between reported usual physical activity and subsequent admissions to hospital and time spent in hospital for 11 228 men and 13 786 women aged 40–79 years in the general population.
Methods Participants from a British prospective population-based cohort study were followed for 20 years (1999–2019) using record linkage to document hospital usage. Total physical activity was estimated by combining workplace and leisure time activity reported in a baseline lifestyle questionnaire and repeated in a subset at a second time point approximately 12 years later.
Results Compared to those reporting no physical activity, participants who were the most active had a lower likelihood of spending more than 20 days in hospital odds ratio (OR) 0.88 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.81–0.96) over the next 20 years after multivariable adjustment for age, sex, smoking status, education, social class and body mass index. Participants reporting any activity had a mean of 0.42 fewer hospital days per year between 1999 and 2009 compared to inactive participants, an estimated potential saving to the National Health Service (NHS) of £247 per person per year, or approximately 7% of UK health expenditure. Participants who remained physically active or became active 12 years later had lower risk of subsequent hospital usage than those who remained inactive or became inactive, p-trend < 0.001.
Conclusions Usual physical activity in this middle-aged and older population predicts lower future hospitalisations - time spent in hospital and number of admissions independently of behavioural and sociodemographic factors. Small feasible differences in usual physical activity in the general population may potentially have a substantial impact on hospital usage and costs.