Moderate Exercise Cuts Women's Risk of Gallstone Surgery
WebMD News Archive
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
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.