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Physical Leisure Activity May Reduce Risk of Bacterial Infections

Recent research suggests those who are physically active may have a lower risk of bacterial infections than those who live a sedentary lifestyle.

In a paper published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, research suggests those who are physically activity may have a lower risk of bacterial infections compared with those who live a sedentary lifestyle.

The “retrospective anonymized registry based study” pulled results from a cohort survey of residents in Denmark. The survey was conducted by North Denmark Region Health in 2007 and again in 2010. According to the authors, “The health surveys were sent out to two samples of 23,490 and 35,700 citizens in Northern Jutland, Denmark, at two different periods. The survey was conducted either from November 2006 to February 2007 or from February to March 2010. Both samples were drawn randomly from the Civil Registrations System from populations of 438,014 and 469,998 >16-yr-old Danes, respectively.”

Researchers sought to determine whether upper respiratory tract infections are reduced when there is an increase in physical activity. In the survey, physical activity was self-reported and assessed using a four-point scale, in which number one represented regular, hard physical activity, several times per week and number four represented sedentary activities, such as reading or watching television.

Participants with a history of cancer, pharmaceutically-treated diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or chronic diseases of the lower respiratory tract were excluded. For those individuals who marked “do not know,” data were considered inconclusive. Bacterial infections were determined by filled antibiotic prescriptions. The researchers then followed up with identified participants to determine the first prescription that was filled in that one-year follow-up period.

During this period, 5,368 participants filled at least one antibiotic prescription, and the researchers found, what they called, “statistically significant” differences between filling antibiotic prescriptions and physical activity. However, this finding was only among women, not men. The authors said, “Low leisure-time physical activity is associated with a statistically significant (10%) lower risk of suspected bacterial infections during a 1-year follow-up compared with sedentary behavior. Further, low and moderate levels of physical activity were associated with statistically significant reduction of suspected cystitis. No reduction in suspected respiratory tract infections was statistically significant and associated with physical activity compared with sedentary behavior.”

The findings potentially suggest that practitioners should make patients aware of the potential physical activity has in reducing the risk of bacterial infections. The authors admit there were limitations to the study, given the possibility of mistakenly prescribing antibiotics due to misdiagnosing a bacterial infection. However, they continued, “A major strength of the present study is its access to nationwide registries, which allowed us to obtain information about all types of antibiotics and thus analyze a wide range of bacterial infections rather than just a few bacterial diseases or bacteria strains.”