With the world looking ahead to finding ways to live with Covid, a large study published on Monday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that regular exercise can reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19 or developing severe disease.
The meta-analysis of 16 international studies involving over 1.8 million adults found that regular physical activity helped protect people from Covid-19. The best defense against contracting and suffering from severe Covid disease was found to be 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity. In comparison to their less active counterparts, regular exercisers had an 11% lower risk of Covid infection and a 44% lower risk of serious disease. The risk of hospitalization due to Covid was reduced by 36% and the risk of death due to Covid by 43% among those who exercised regularly compared to those who did not. According to the findings, even moderate exercise offered some defense against the disease. They noted that the results could be weakened by the use of studies with different research methods and by subjective assessments of activity, and they cautioned that the work only concerned beta and delta coronavirus variants, not the omicron variants that dominate today, but they still said the findings could help policymakers and clinicians develop guidelines to help reduce the risk of Covid-19.
The researchers concluded that the mechanism by which exercise protects against Covid-19 remains unclear. They hypothesized that a mix of metabolic and environmental factors was to blame. Researchers noted that the protective effect against Covid could be due to the known beneficial effect of exercise on immunity. As an example, it has been shown to improve immune function and anti-inflammatory responses in the body, and it can even counteract the impact of stress on these processes. In addition, the researchers speculated that the protective effect of exercise against Covid severity, hospitalization, and mortality may be due to the higher levels of cardiovascular and muscular fitness among people who exercise regularly.
It’s not surprising that keeping active can help you avoid contracting Covid-19. Physical activity has been linked to improved immune function and reduced susceptibility to viral infections like the common cold. The infected usually make a speedier recovery than the healthy but less active population. Patients with risk factors for Covid-19, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, benefit from exercise as well. A large body of evidence shows that regular physical activity has positive effects on health and longevity. New research suggests that the risk of premature death can be greatly reduced by engaging in vigorous exercise for as little as 300 minutes per week, or moderate activity for as long as 600 minutes per week.
Additional Reading: “I Had Never Felt Worse”: Long-Term Covid Sufferers Are Struggling With Exercise (NYT)
What to do: get back in shape after Covid-19 (Guardian)
This research suggests that significantly more exercise is needed to achieve the same benefits as before, if one is to achieve a longer lifespan (Forbes)
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