Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up
Font Size

Moderate Exercise Cuts Women's Risk of Gallstone Surgery


WebMD Health News

Sept. 9, 1999 (Seattle) -- A few hours of brisk walking, jogging, or bicycling each week can reduce a woman's risk for gallstone surgery, according to a study in the Sept. 9 New England Journal of Medicine. But the study shows that exercise alone doesn't seem to help women who are severely overweight.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who exercised at least two-and-a-half hours a week were about 30% less likely to need surgery for gallstones than women who didn't exercise. The researchers also reported that women who spent more than 41 hours a week sitting at work or in their cars were about 40% more likely to have gallstone surgery than women who spent fewer than six hours sitting.

"Essentially, we found yet another advantage of exercise," says Michael Leitzmann, MD, one of the study's authors. Leitzmann tells WebMD that although the results probably apply to men too, they are especially important for women, who are more likely than men to get gallstone disease.

One encouraging finding is that almost any type of exercise helps, Leitzmann says. "Protection was conferred not only by vigorous exercise activities, such as jogging, running, racket sports, and brisk walking, but also by nonvigorous activities, such as stair climbing," he says. Leitzmann says the benefits of exercise increased up to about five hours a week, then reached a plateau, suggesting that women don't need to engage in strenuous activities to protect themselves.

The study also found that women who were severely overweight did not benefit directly from exercise, says David Johnston, MD, a researcher at the University of New Mexico who wrote an editorial that accompanied the Harvard study. Johnston tells WebMD that exercise may have helped these women to lose weight and keep it off, which is one way to lower the risk of gallbladder disease. But exercise without weight loss didn't help, he says.

The study was conducted by looking at the health records of over 60,000 female nurses over a 10-year period. During that time, approximately 3,300 of the women had surgery for gallstone disease. The disease can cause severe abdominal pain and a variety of digestive problems.

Johnston says the Harvard study, along with earlier studies of men, provide very strong evidence that exercise can help many people avoid gallbladder surgery. But he says scientists still aren't sure why exercise helps.

"This study didn't answer that question," Johnston says, adding that one possibility is that exercise reduces the amount of cholesterol in bile, the fluid that fills the gallbladder. That would make a difference because most gallstones are formed from cholesterol, he tells WebMD. Another possibility, he says, is that exercise sends a signal to the gallbladder to contract, which allows it to expel stones before they cause problems.

But whatever the explanation, Johnston says, "The important thing is that we know now that exercise works and that you don't have to be a super athlete to reduce your risk of gallbladder surgery."

Today on WebMD

man holding his stomach
Get the facts on common problems.
blueberries in a palm
Best and worst foods.
 
woman shopping
Learn what foods to avoid.
fresh and dried plums
Will it help constipation?
 
top foods for probiotics
Slideshow
couple eating at cafe
Article
 
sick child
Slideshow
Woman blowing bubble gum
Slideshow
 

Send yourself a link to download the app.

Loading ...

Please wait...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Woman with crohns in pain
Slideshow
Woman with stomach pain
Slideshow
 
diet for diverticulitis
Video
what causes diarrhea
Video