Regular physical activity can help protect you from serious COVID-19 — and possibly even keep you from getting sick, according to a research review published August 22 at British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Co-author Yasmin Ezzatvar, a physiotherapist and lecturer in nursing at Spain’s University of Valencia, said: “It’s time to treat exercise as medicine. “Here’s the real proof of that.”
Researchers analyzed 16 previously published studies looking for a link between physical activity and COVID-19 outcomes. These studies included more than 1.8 million adults and were mostly based on participants self-reporting their exercise habits. Most of the research was done in 2020 and early 2021, before a COVID-19 vaccine became widely available.
Compared with people who don’t exercise much, active people are about 36% less likely to be hospitalized and 43% less likely to die if they contract the virus. People who get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week—amount recommended by US public health officials—Has the best protection, the researchers found.
In a sense, that finding was obvious. Exercise regularly related to good health and longevityand it can help prevent or manage chronic conditions puts people at risk for COVID-19 complications, such as diabetes and heart disease.
More surprisingly, active people were also about 11 percent less likely to get infected than those who were more sedentary, the researchers concluded – which suggests that Exercise itself can protect.
“Regular physical activity can contribute to a more effective immune response,” says Ezzatvar. “It can provide enhanced immunity to [many] infections, not just COVID. “
The article does not provide evidence that exercise is causing these effects — just that it is associated with better COVID-19 outcomes. There may be other explanations for the trends, such as differences in lifestyle, virus exposure and socioeconomic status between active and sedentary people. Most of the studies included were also published before Omicron became dominant and when most people were unvaccinated, so it is difficult to generalize the findings to date.
Another potential note: if you happen to be exercising next to someone who already has COVID-19, your exercise routine may not keep you from getting sick. A little research published in May found that someone doing intense exercise emitted 132 times more aerosols than when they were resting — which is bad news if your treadmill neighbor has the virus.
However, exercise is “100%” recommended for most people, Ezzatvar says. “It’s good for your health — not just for COVID [protection]but also your mental health and your physical health. “
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