Regular exercise can reduce Covid risks, study finds | Coronavirus

Regular exercise lowers the risk of developing Covid-19 or becoming seriously ill with the disease, with about 20 minutes a day providing the greatest benefit, a global analysis of data suggests.

Regular exercise is linked to a lower risk of Covid-19 infection, severity, hospitalization and death, according to the new pooled data analysis of the available evidence published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

A weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity appears to provide the best protection, the study suggests.

“Regular physical activity appears to be linked to a lower likelihood of adverse Covid-19 outcomes,” the team of Spanish researchers wrote. “Our analysis shows that individuals who exercise regularly have a lower risk of Sars-CoV-2 infection, Covid-19 hospitalization, severe Covid-19 illness and Covid-19-related death than physically inactive individuals , independent of design and instrument used.”

Experts know that regular exercise has a protective effect against the severity of respiratory infections.

Regular physical activity has been linked to a range of health benefits, including the reduction in the incidence of risk factors for adverse Covid-19 outcomes such as obesity or type 2 diabetes.

However, due to the limitations of the analysis, the findings should be interpreted with caution, the researchers said.

Previous research suggests that physical activity may reduce both the risk and severity of respiratory infections, at least in part because of its ability to boost the immune system.

The link between regular exercise and the severity of Covid-19 is poorly understood, but likely involves both metabolic and environmental factors, say the researchers, who sought to quantify the threshold of physical activity that might be needed to reduce the risks of infection and associated hospitalization and death.

They searched large research databases for relevant studies published between November 2019 and March 2022. From a first of 291, they collected the results of 16.

The studies involved a total of 1.8 million adults, of whom just over half (54%) were women. The mean age of the participants was 53. Most studies were observational and were conducted in South Korea, England, Iran, Canada, UK, Spain, Brazil, Palestine, South Africa and Sweden.

The pooled data analysis found that those who included regular exercise in their weekly routine had an overall 11% lower risk of infection with Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid.

They also had a 36% lower risk of hospitalization, a 44% lower risk of severe Covid-19 illness, and a 43% lower risk of death from Covid-19 than their physically inactive peers.

The maximum protective effect occurred at approximately 500 Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes per week, after which there were no further improvements.

METS expresses the amount of energy (calories) expended in one minute of physical activity; 500 of them equal 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity.

The researchers cautioned that the analysis included observational studies, different study designs, subjective assessments of physical activity levels, and covered only the beta and delta variants of Sars-CoV-2 rather than Omicron, all of which could weaken the findings.

There are plausible biological explanations for what they found, the researchers said. Regular moderate-intensity exercise could help boost the body’s anti-inflammatory responses, as well as cardiorespiratory and muscle fitness, all of which could explain its beneficial effects on Covid-19 severity, they suggest.

“Our findings highlight the protective effects of adequate physical activity as a public health strategy, with potential benefits to reduce the risk of severe Covid-19,” they wrote. “Given the heterogeneity and risk of publication bias, further studies with standardized methodology and outcome reporting are now needed.”

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