Research from the University of Gothenburg suggests that maintaining or improving aerobic fitness reduces the risk of future hospital admissions, especially for individuals who have been hospitalized previously.
Regular physical activity has numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease. However, little research has explored the link between changes in aerobic fitness and the likelihood of hospital admission.
The study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, involved 91,140 individuals who underwent two repeated health profile assessments in the occupational health service. These assessments included fitness tests on a cycle, measurements of weight, height, and blood pressure, and questions about lifestyle and health experiences.
Changes in aerobic fitness between the two health profile assessments were compared with subsequent hospital admissions data from national registry data. The study examined hospital admissions in general and hospital admissions specifically due to cardiovascular disease over an average period of seven years.
„Maintaining aerobic fitness“ referred to changes of up to plus/minus one percent per year, with significant changes classified as improved or deteriorated aerobic fitness. The average time between the participants‘ tests was just over three years.
Key Links to Aerobic Fitness
The results showed that the group that maintained its aerobic fitness had 7% fewer hospital admissions for any reason during the follow-up period, and the group with improved aerobic fitness had 11% fewer admissions than those whose aerobic fitness deteriorated.
The difference was more pronounced in participants who had been previously hospitalized. When aerobic fitness was maintained or improved in this group, the number of hospital admissions for any reason during the follow-up period was 14% lower than in participants whose aerobic fitness deteriorated.
For hospital admissions specifically due to cardiovascular disease, maintaining aerobic fitness was linked to 9% fewer admissions, and improving aerobic fitness was linked to 13% fewer admissions compared to participants whose aerobic fitness deteriorated. Among participants who had been previously hospitalized and maintained or improved their aerobic fitness, there was a 20% decrease in admissions due to cardiovascular disease during the follow-up period.
All results were adjusted for changes related to aspects such as nutrition, smoking, and perceived stress levels.
Results with Clear Relevance to Healthcare
The study was conducted by the Sahlgrenska Academy and the Department of Food, Nutrition and Sport Science at the University of Gothenburg, the Lifestyle Intervention Center at Sahlgrenska University Hospital Östra, the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH), and the HPI Health Profile Institute, responsible for the database of health profile assessments conducted by the occupational health service from 1986 to 2019.
Elin Ekblom Bak, associate professor of sport science at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH), is one of the authors.
„The links demonstrate potential benefits for individual health, and may also offer the possibility to influence societal and healthcare costs, as an average hospitalization costs nearly 100,000 SEK per case,“ she notes.
Mats Börjesson, professor of sport physiology at the University of Gothenburg, senior physician and director of the Lifestyle Intervention Center, and lead author of the study, concludes, „Increased physical activity, especially in people who have been hospitalized, can reduce readmissions and thereby reduce the substantial burden expected on healthcare in the future.“
Griffin, F., et al. (2023). Maintaining or increasing cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with a lower rate of hospital admission. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. doi.org/10.1093/eurjpc/zwad367.