How Effective Is Exercise in Preventing Common Illness and Hospital Stays?

An airman runs with his dog at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.
U.S Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Galvan, 386th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, runs in the early morning with his dog, Ritz, July 19, 2014, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (Staff Sgt. Jeremy Bowcock/U.S. Air Force photo)

If you are one of many who find it difficult to exercise due to lack of time or equipment, here is a recent study that measured physical activity and risks of hospitalization for 25 common health conditions.

It is obviously clear that physical activity is going to help us become and remain healthy as we age, but just how healthy? Well, put it this way: If you do not find the time to exercise, you may be putting yourself at risk of hospital stays and serious medical complications.

This reminds me of the Glasbergen cartoon where the doctor looks at a patient and asks, "What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?"

If you do not have time to add exercise to your life, do you have the time for getting sick and enduring longer hospital stays? No one has time for that.

The study determined that not moving throughout your day can place you in a higher risk category of developing diabetes, cancer, stroke and other life-threatening diseases, which can result in long hospital stays. The good news is that you don't have to spend hours at the gym in order to get fit.

Even just a few minutes a day of physical activity can have a positive effect on your health. In the study, 20 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as walking) reduced the top nine reasons for getting sick and entering the hospital, compared to inactive groups.

Adding an additional 20 minutes a day placed you in even a better category that reduced more of the most common 25 health conditions that cause people to be hospitalized.

If you are wondering what these ailments are, they are listed in the charts/tables of the study, but here are the top 10:

  1. Venous thromboembolism
  2. Stroke
  3. Heart disease
  4. Heart attack
  5. Diabetes
  6. Pneumonia
  7. Gallbladder disease
  8. Urinary tract infections
  9. Hernia
  10. Gastroesophageal reflux

Incorporate Activity into Your Daily Life

Try to incorporate more movement into your daily routine. Start by just walking for a few minutes each day and gradually build up to more intense activities like running, biking or swimming. Find ways to increase your movements each day by doing these types of physical activities:

  1. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  2. Park farther away from your destination.
  3. Take a brisk walk during your lunch break or before or after any meal of the day.
  4. Keep moving and do simple stretches throughout the day.
  5. Take up a hobby that requires physical activity, such as gardening or dancing.
  6. Try adding push-ups and squats throughout the day in small sets every hour on the hour.

It's important to remember that even a little bit of physical activity counts as exercise and can make a world of difference.

Expensive and Inconvenient (Hospital Stays, Not Exercise)

Being unhealthy can have serious consequences in both time and money. Hospital stays are always expensive and inconvenient. The average hospital stay in the United States costs around $10,000.

Not only is that a lot of money, even if you have insurance, you will spend significant time dealing with agents to make payments. Everything goes on hold when you are sick in the hospital, as the only important thing is getting well.

Exercise can help you avoid those costly and inconvenient hospital stays. Regular exercise helps to maintain your overall health and well-being. Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise can also help you control your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of other chronic conditions.

Moderate physical activity can help you stay fit and healthy, so get good at the basics. This includes activities like walking, running, swimming and cycling. You can also incorporate strength training exercises into your routine by using dumbbells or machines at the gym. Calisthenics are also a great place to start with strength training.

Speak to your doctor for help getting started and find exercises that you enjoy so you can stick to them. It's also important to adopt a healthy diet. Eating right can also help you maintain a healthy weight, which can reduce your risk of chronic diseases and conditions.

The conclusion of the study states: "This large prospective cohort (81,000 adults) study found protective associations between physical activity and the risks of cardiopulmonary diseases, gallbladder disease, and diabetes, and associations with other conditions were observed across a wide range of physiological systems. These results suggest that increasing physical activity levels by 20 minutes per day could yield substantial reductions in hospitalizations and may be a useful nonpharmaceutical intervention to reduce health care burdens and improve quality of life."

Don't wait. Get moving. Fitness is preventive medicine and will add life to your years. Start moving more and eating better now to avoid the need for a serious hospital stay later. Adding some good habits to your life now will help you stay fit and healthy and save you time, money and hassle in the long run.

Study Reference: Published February 2023 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Association of Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity Level With Risks of Hospitalization for 25 Common Health Conditions in UK Adults

Eleanor L. Watts, DPhil1; Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, PhD1; Aiden Doherty, PhD2; et al

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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