People who get more exercise are significantly less likely to develop painful and potentially dangerous gallstones, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia and published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“If everyone was to achieve the impossible and do the same amount of exercise as those in the most active category, gallstones could be reduced by 70 percent,” lead researcher Paul Banim noted.
Gallstones are obstructions that form in the gall bladder in one-third of women and one-sixth of men. Thirty percent of cases produce symptoms or complications.
The researchers compared exercise level and gallstone risk in 25,000 adults, dividing them into four different levels of activity. Those in the “inactive” category had sedentary jobs and also did not get any exercise outside of work. People classified as “moderately inactive” either had sedentary jobs but got an additional 30 minutes of exercise per day or had standing jobs with no extra exercise. “Moderately active” adults were those with sedentary jobs or standing jobs plus an extra hour or half-hour of exercise per day, respectively, or who worked in physical jobs. To qualify as “active,” a person with a sedentary job needed to exercise more than an hour per day, a person with a standing job needed to exercise more than 30 minutes per day, and a person with a physical job needed to exercise at least a little outside of work every day.
An increase of just one activity level corresponded to a 17 percent lower risk of gallstones. Researchers could not uncover the reason for this effect, but they suggested it might be due to lower levels of overall cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
“The study does not … tell us how much exercise is effective in prevention of gallstones as this would require specific recording of exercise activity,” noted Charlie Murray of the British Society of Gastroenterology. “It does, however, demonstrate that as with the prevention of many disease processes, exercise improves your chances of staying healthy.”