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Move more, spend less time in hospital

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A new study has found that older Australians can reduce their time spent in hospital by walking an extra 4,300 steps a day.

The epidemiologists from the University of Newcastle found that an increase in step count from 4,500 to 8,800 a day was associated with 0.36 fewer hospital bed days per person per year.

They noted that the cost of a day in hospital in Australia in 2012-13 was $1,895, so $550 can potentially be saved annually for each person who increases their physical activity by 4,300 steps a day.

“These steps can be accumulated as many brief activities throughout the day, or as steady walking for about three kilometres,” Dr Ben Ewald and colleagues wrote in the Medical Journal of Australia.

The 10-year study of people aged 55-plus found that the overall estimated number of bed-days per year of follow-up decreased by 9 per cent for each 1,000-step increase in daily step count.

Participants wore pedometers for one week during 2005-2007. The researchers then analysed the hospital data of all participants from the time of their recruitment until 31 March 2015.

Complete data was available from 2,110 people, aged 55 or more.

The researchers found that there was more benefit in moving from 3,000 to 5,000 steps daily than there was in moving from 8,000 to 10,000.

“Health interventions and urban design features that encourage walking could have a substantial effect on the need for hospital care, and should be features of health policy,” they said.

In a linked editorial, Alfred Deakin Professor Jo Salmon and Dr Nicky Ridgers from the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University suggested encouraging older patients to invest in wearable activity monitors, such as Fitbit, Garmin, and the Apple Watch.

“Further investigation of wearable technology is needed, particularly in different population groups, with the aim of identifying the key factors for enhancing sustained changes in physical activity,” they wrote.

“We need to identify how these devices can be integrated into clinical practice in order to improve health outcomes.

“But for health practitioners with sedentary patients looking for assistance with becoming more active, a wearable activity monitor would be a good first step.”

You can read the study here (https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2017/206/3/daily-step-count-and-need-hospital-care-subsequent-years-community-based-sample?0=ip_login_no_cache%3D35edc06435791ffbc0d09693c6bb1448) and the commentary here (https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2017/206/3/wearable-technology-activity-motivator-or-fad-wears-thin).

Maria Hawthorne