Associations Between Physical Activity Vital Sign in Patients and Health Care Utilization in a Health Care System, 2018-2020

J Phys Act Health. 2022 Dec 8;20(1):28-34. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2022-0266. Print 2023 Jan 1.


Background: Physical inactivity is a risk factor for many chronic conditions. This retrospective cohort study examined associations between physical activity (PA) with health care utilization (HU).

Methods: A PA vital sign was recorded in clinics from January 2018 to December 2020. Patients were categorized as inactive, insufficiently active, or sufficiently active by US PA aerobic guidelines. Associations between PA vital sign and visits (inpatient admissions, emergency department, urgent care, and primary care) were estimated using population average regression by visit type.

Results: 23,721 patients had at least one PA vital sign recorded, with a mean age of 47.3 years and mean body mass index (BMI) of 28; 52% were female and 63% were White. Sufficiently active patients were younger, male, White, and had lower BMI than insufficiently active patients. Achieving 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous PA per 1000 patient years was associated with 34 fewer emergency department visits (P < .001), 19 fewer inpatient admissions (P < .001), and 38 fewer primary care visits (P < .001) compared with inactive patients. Stronger associations between lower PA and higher HU were present among those who were older or had a higher comorbidity. BMI, sex, ethnicity, and race did not modify the association between PA and HU.

Conclusions: Meeting aerobic guidelines was associated with reduced HU for inpatient, primary care, and emergency department visits.

Keywords: health care utilization; health promotion; physical activity assessment; preventive medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Body Mass Index
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vital Signs