Physical activity reduces medical visits and hospitalizations

3 de August de 2020

Research carried out by professors David Cantarero, Marta Pascual and Javier Lera (members of the R + D + i Group in Health Economics and Management of Health Services UC-IDIVAL) shows the great importance of the lifestyles of our greater in their use of health resources such as consultations and hospitalizations.

In general, from the age of 50 an increase in the use of health resources is beginning to be seen. In particular, those over 65 are the population group that makes the most use of health services. It is understandable due to several factors: the increase in life expectancy, the development of new technologies and medical techniques and the contribution of these people in health through the payment of taxes. It should not be forgotten that the elderly have contributed the most to the development of the welfare system.

The study has been published in the Atlantic Economic Journal with the title "Healthcare Utilization and Healthy Lifestyles among Elderly People Living in Southern Europe: Recent Evidence from the SHARE". It examines the impact that the lifestyles of our elders have on their number of medical visits and hospitalizations. To do this, a data panel extracted from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe – SHARE was used. This database is one of the most widely used in studies of older people due to its multidisciplinary nature. It contains information on the personal relationships, lifestyles, socioeconomic or health data of the respondents.

In this case, the study focuses on smoking and physical activity in the elderly. However, other factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic or health data, such as chronicity or self-perceived health, are taken into account and data from 16 years ago have been accounted for.

At first glance, it is understood that smoking would increase the use of health resources and that, on the contrary, physical activity would reduce said use. However, it is essential to give a figure to the impact of these habits to be able to plan in the medium and long term and thus be able to guarantee the sustainability of one of the legs of the welfare state.

As the main results of the study, it can be highlighted that smoking has a significant impact on the number of hospitalizations, specifically, it is estimated that a person who has been a smoker sees their hospitalizations increased by 14.22%. Conversely, those who remain physically active are associated with a reduction of 7.8% – 28.25% in medical consultations and the number of hospitalizations respectively. These results are very useful for planning and implementing public policies that promote physical activity among our elders.

However, it is very important to take into account other factors such as geographic, socioeconomic level or gender. The study shows that the impact of the place of residence plays a not inconsiderable role. In relation to the socioeconomic level, a positive bias is seen in those individuals with higher incomes: higher income would mean greater use of health resources. Furthermore, gender bias must also be taken into account in all measures carried out. It is essential to remember that women have a longer life expectancy and that they are in charge of all those tasks related to caring for people, which reduces their free time and could worsen their health.

In COVID-19 times, the efficient use of all resources becomes even more important in order to better cope with the pandemic. For this, it is useful to be able to identify all the factors associated with health utilization since they are decisive for the design of policies that aim to sustain the welfare system. Such policies can be carried out by improving health outcomes or empowering citizens (as requested by the European institutions).

Referencia: Cantarero-Prieto, D., Pascual-Sáez, M. & Lera, J. (2020) Healthcare Utilization and Healthy Lifestyles among Elderly People Living in Southern Europe: Recent Evidence from the SHARE. Atl Econ J.