Regular physical activity linked to reduced risk of COVID-19

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Exercise has protective effect against COVID-19, review finds. Image credit: BONNINSTUDIO/Stocksy.
  • Regular physical activity may be linked to a lower risk of developing COVID-19.
  • People who exercise regularly may be less likely to have severe symptoms of COVID-19 and less likely to be hospitalized or die from the disease.
  • 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week provides the best protection.

A Kaiser Permanente 2021 study of approximately 49,000 people with COVID-19 found that regular physical activity was strongly associated with a reduced risk of serious disease outcomes.

With a new systematic review and meta-analysis published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicinea team of Spanish researchers set out to assess the current evidence on the effect of habitual physical activity on COVID-19 outcomes.

The review also aimed to quantify how much regular physical activity a person would need to have a reduced risk of serious outcomes if they developed the disease.

The review found that regular physical activity is linked to a lower risk of developing COVID-19, a lower likelihood of having severe symptoms in people who do develop the disease, as well as a higher likelihood weak to be hospitalized or die because of it.

Specifically, the analysis found that people who regularly included physical activity in their schedule had an 11% lower risk of developing COVID-19. Those who habitually exercised and developed COVID-19 had a 44% lower risk of developing severe illness, a 36% lower risk of being admitted to hospital and a 43% lower risk of dying by COVID-19.

Researchers have found that 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week provides the best protection.

Dr Yasmine Ezzatvarco-author of the article and a doctor of physiotherapy who teaches at the University of Valencia in Spain, said Medical News Todayy that she and the other researchers were motivated to conduct this review because the work was needed “to inform clinical decisions and public health strategies.”

A body of work by other researchers has found that people who devote time to regular physical activity have a reduced risk of contracting infectious diseases.

A systematic exam published in 2021, for example, found that habitual moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is associated with a prospective 31% lower risk of infectious disease and a 37% lower risk of infectious disease-related mortality.

“The health benefits of regular physical activity and exercise are well documented,” Dr. Ezzatvar said. DTM. “Regular physical activity elicits a plethora of physiological adaptations that directly or indirectly improve health.”

A number of factors may account for the protective effect of habitual exercise.

“There is evidence that regular physical activity may contribute to a more efficient immune response, by providing enhanced protective immunity against infections, which may explain the relationship between exercise constancy [and] COVID-19[feminine] [risk].”

– Dr. Yasmin Ezzatvar, co-author of the study and doctor of physiotherapy

Regular exercise, Dr. Ezzatvar added, also reduces the risk of individuals becoming obese or developing hypertension, two conditions that clearly increase the risk of suffering more serious consequences from COVID-19.

For the analysis, two of the researchers searched three major research databases for studies published between November 2019 and March 2022 regarding COVID-19 and physical activity. Of 291 studies that met the criteria, the researchers selected 16 studies for analysis.

Nearly 2 million adults participated in these studies. Of these, more than half were women and had an average age of 53 years. The studies were conducted in countries around the world, including Iran, Canada and Sweden.

Dr Danielle Kirkmanassistant professor of kinesiology and health sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., said DTM:

“It’s a nice study because it kind of combines a lot of different studies from around the world to kind of show something that we predicted might happen at the start of the pandemic, which is that those who are less active are likely predisposed to have some worse outcomes related to COVID-19.

Dr. Kirkman found it particularly interesting that the study found that 2.5 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week offered the best protection.

The result corresponds to physical activity recommendations for adults issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

“The study certainly lined up very well to show that those who achieved this goal had better outcomes if they did. [develop COVID-19].”

– Dr. Danielle Kirkman, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University

The researchers pointed out several limitations to their results. For one thing, the review only looked at studies regarding the beta and delta variants of SARS-CoV-2. Additionally, many studies have used subjective assessments of physical activity levels such as self-reported questionnaires.

In their paper, the researchers also acknowledge that the authors of the individual studies may not have adjusted sufficiently for the covariates or the characteristics of the study participants.

“So now we know that physical activity is strongly linked to non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, that sort of thing,” Dr. Kirkman said. DTM.

“And I think in a study, a meta-analysis like this, it’s very difficult to control all of those things and […] eliminate what is exactly [related to lower levels of] physical activity and what could be other related diseases [outcomes]added Dr. Kirkman. “[T]take this into account when interpreting the results.

Dr. Ezzatvar would like to see future studies that examine how people who regularly include physical activity in their routines fare with new variants of SARS-CoV-2 and that also take into account the impact of vaccinations and new treatments. for COVID-19.

“We also need more studies that allow us to understand how to help people with persistent symptoms of COVID-19,” she said. DTM.

Dr. Ezzatvar and the other Spanish researchers are currently working on a study that will compare the effects of 6 weeks of strength training versus standard care on the clinical status of patients with persistent symptoms of COVID-19.

“If successful,” she said, “it is speculated that this trial would provide evidence that exercise training has potential for patients with post-discharge symptoms after COVID-19.”


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