According to an analysis of studies, regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of getting COVID-19 as well as the severity, which includes being admitted to the hospital or dying.
The analysis indicates that moderate-intensity physical activity of 150 minutes every week, or vigorous intensity of 75 minutes appears to provide the best protection.
Prior research indicates that physical activity helps reduce both the risk of respiratory infection as well as the severity because of the part it plays in strengthening the immune system.
According to the researchers, although the regular physical activity association with severity of COVID-19 is not well understood, it likely involves environmental as well as metabolic factors, and they wanted to try and measure the physical activity threshold that would be required to reduce infection risks and related hospital admissions and deaths.
They looked at 3 large databases for suitable studies and pooled the results of 16 from an initial batch of 291.
The studies consisted of 1,853,610 individuals in total with an average age of 53 years, and 54% of them were women. The majority of them were observational and were conducted in Sweden, South Africa, Palestine, Spain, Brazil, the UK, Canada, Iran, South Korea, and England.
The analysis data revealed that individuals who regularly engaged in physical activity every week generally had an 11% reduced risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The individuals also had a 44% reduced risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, a 36% reduced risk of hospital admission, and a 43% reduced risk of death compared to physically inactive individuals.
The maximum protective effect took place at about 500 MET weekly minutes, after which no additional improvements were seen.
METS, or Metabolic Equivalent of Task, means the energy amount expended for 1 minute of physical activity, and 500 METS are equal to 150 physical activity minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 physical activity minutes of vigorous intensity.
However, observational studies were included in the analysis, subjective physical activity level assessments, differing study designs, and only the Delta and Beta variants of SARS-CoV-2 were included as opposed to Omicron, which could all affect the results.
But the researchers say there are credible biological explanations for the results. Regular moderate-intensity exercise could help to improve the anti-inflammatory responses of the body, in addition to muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness, which could all explain the beneficial effects on the severity of COVID-19.
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