Background — Although the benefits of physical activity in preventing chronic medical conditions are well established, its impacts on infectious diseases, and seasonal influenza in particular, are less clearly defined. The authors examined the association between physical activity and influenza-coded outpatient visits, as a proxy for influenza infection.
Methodology/Principal Findings — The authors conducted a cohort study of Ontario respondents to Statistics Canada’s population health surveys over 12 influenza seasons. The authors assessed physical activity levels through survey responses, and influenza-coded physician office and emergency department visits through physician billing claims. The authors used logistic regression to estimate the risk of influenza-coded outpatient visits during influenza seasons. The cohort comprised 114,364 survey respondents who contributed 357,466 person-influenza seasons of observation. Compared to inactive individuals, moderately active (OR 0.83; 95% CI 0.74–0.94) and active (OR 0.87; 95% CI 0.77–0.98) individuals were less likely to experience an influenza-coded visit. Stratifying by age, the protective effect of physical activity remained significant for individuals <65 years (active: OR 0.86; 95% CI 0.75–0.98, moderately active: OR 0.85; 95% CI 0.74–0.97) but not for individuals ≥65 years. The main limitations of this study were the use of influenza-coded outpatient visits rather than laboratory-confirmed influenza as the outcome measure, the reliance on self-report for assessing physical activity and various covariates, and the observational study design.
Conclusion/Significance — Moderate to high amounts of physical activity may be associated with reduced risk of influenza for individuals <65 years. Future research should use laboratory-confirmed influenza outcomes to confirm the association between physical activity and influenza.
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