Prevention of sickness absence (SA) is a major public health challenge. Sufficient levels of physical activity may be an important protective factor. In contrast to the North European countries, little is known about physical activity behaviour and its influence over SA in South European countries.
In the European Health Interview Survey (EHIS) 2014, a total of 9,512 Spanish workers aged 17 to 70 (46.5% women) replied to questions about SA (last 12 months) and the frequency of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA). Multiple linear regression adjusted for age, sex, education, occupational class, smoking habits, body mass index, and chronic disease (diabetes, hypertension, neck pain, low back pain, chronic depression and anxiety) was used to assess associations.
The average SA among the participants was 6.9 days (SD=33.3) per year, whereas the prevalence of any SA episode was 22.0%. The prevalence of workers performing high or very high LTPA was 31.0%. In final sex and age-stratified fully adjusted models, the association between LTPA and SA remained significant for women aged 44 to 51 (β=-0.07, 95% CI -0.42 to -0.03) for SA.
The results suggest that higher LTPA is associated with lower SA in a particular category of workers, that might benefit from physical activity strategies.