Physical exercise associated with reduced risk of chronic pain in University students

1. Higher frequency, intensity, and duration of physical exercise linked to lower risk of chronic pain in Norwegian University students

Evidence Rating: 3 (Average)

Chronic pain is estimated to impact around one-third of the population, and is a leading cause of disability worldwide. There has been mixed evidence on the link between physical activity and chronic pain, in part due to the varied methods in which chronic pain is measured and reported. As well, there is a gap in the literature on this link in young adults, as most chronic pain studies focus on older adults. The current study uses a survey of Norwegian university students to examine the association between the level of physical activity and presence of chronic pain in Norwegian university students, aged 18-35. Chronic pain was measured and reported using the Graphical Index of Pain (GRIP), a digital instrument that maps the entire body and allows users to specifically identify areas of chronic pain. Overall, 54.2% of students reported chronic pain in at least one area of the body. In general, higher levels of physical exercise (higher frequency, longer duration, and higher intensity) were correlated with lower risk of chronic pain. The largest effect in the study came from exercise frequency in men: Those exercising for 2-3 days weekly were 35% less likely to experience chronic pain than those exercising less than once weekly (OR = 0.65, 95% CI = 0.53-0.78). For men, exercising nearly every day did not lower the risk for chronic pain as much as only 2-3 times per week (OR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.65-0.98), whereas for women, exercising nearly every day lowered the risk for chronic pain the most (OR = 0.79, 95% CI = 0.70-0.88). The strength of these findings were only minimally impacted after adjusting for lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption and amount of sleep. The findings of this study show the potential for post-secondary schools to incorporate physical exercise into student life, in order to combat the chronic pain that is often associated with sedentary student behaviours.

Click to read the article in PLOS ONE

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