Physical inactivity during leisure time and irregular meals are associated with functional gastrointestinal complaints in middle-aged and elder subjects

Scand J Gastroenterol. 2016 Nov;51(11):1299-307. doi: 10.1080/00365521.2016.1209786. Epub 2016 Jul 19.


Objectives: Few studies have examined how lifestyle factors affect functional gastrointestinal disorders. The aim of this study was to see if leisure time physical inactivity, dietary habits or body mass index (BMI) were associated with increased risk of functional abdominal pain, functional bloating, functional constipation or functional diarrhea.

Methods and materials: This study was based on a questionnaire as part of the Swedish EpiHealth study. The cohort included 16,840 subjects between 45 and 75 years of age. Subjects with organic gastrointestinal diseases were excluded. Gastrointestinal symptoms were defined as functional abdominal pain, functional bloating, functional constipation and functional diarrhea. A meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) was considered irregular if not taken every day. The impact of leisure time physical activity, dietary habits and BMI on functional symptoms were examined by logistic regression, adjusted for age, gender, socio-economy, smoking and alcohol habits.

Results: Higher the degree of physical activity, lower the risk for all kind of gastrointestinal complaints (p ≤ 0.001). Intakes of lunch more seldom or never versus every day were associated with diarrhea (OR: 1.592; 95% CI: 1.046-2.422). Irregular breakfast habits tended to associate with bloating (OR: 1.366; 95% CI 0.995-1.874). BMI was not significantly associated with gastrointestinal complaints, but BMI ≥25 kg/m(2) tended to reduce risk of constipation compared with BMI <25 kg/m(2).

Conclusion: Physical inactivity during leisure time shows independent associations with all functional gastrointestinal symptoms, whereas irregular dietary habits mainly associates with functional diarrhea. Higher degree of physical activity is associated with corresponding risk reductions of symptoms.

Keywords: Body mass index; dietary habits; functional gastrointestinal disorders; physical activity; physical exercise.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Aged
  • Constipation / etiology
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Exercise*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Life Style*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden