Background: Physical activity may be an important determinant of the risk of gallstone disease in women, both independently and as a result of its role in maintaining body weight.
Methods: We prospectively studied recreational physical activity (such as jogging, running, and bicycling) and sedentary behavior (such as spending hours watching television) in relation to the risk of cholecystectomy, a surrogate for symptomatic cholelithiasis, in a cohort of 60,290 women who were 40 to 65 years of age in 1986 and had no history of gallstone disease. As part of the Nurses' Health Study, the women reported on questionnaires mailed to them every two years both their activity level and whether they had undergone cholecystectomy. During a 10-year follow-up period (1986 to 1996), 3257 cases of cholecystectomy were documented.
Results: Recreational physical activity was inversely related to the risk of cholecystectomy. The multivariate relative risk for women in the highest as compared with the lowest quintile of physical activity was 0.69 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.61 to 0.78). In contrast, sedentary behavior was independently related to an increased risk of cholecystectomy. As compared with women who spent less than 6 hours per week sitting while at work or driving, women who spent 41 to 60 hours per week sitting had a multivariate relative risk of 1.42 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.06 to 1.89), and women who spent more than 60 hours per week sitting while at work or driving had a multivariate relative risk of 2.32 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.26 to 4.26). These associations persisted after we controlled for body weight and weight change.
Conclusions: In women, recreational physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of cholecystectomy. The association is independent of other risk factors for gallstone disease, such as obesity and recent weight loss.