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This is how long you need to exercise: What new study says on Covid-19 and physical activity

Physical activity can lessen both the risk of infection and the severity of respiratory infections, as per report. (PTI)Premium
Physical activity can lessen both the risk of infection and the severity of respiratory infections, as per report. (PTI)

  • Regular moderate-intensity exercise may help boost the body's anti-inflammatory responses, as well as cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, all of which may explain its beneficial effects on Covid-19 severity, new study reveals

A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has associated daily physical activity with a decreased risk of Covid-19 infection and severity, including hospitalisation and death. Interestingly, the study suggests that a weekly tally of 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, physical activity seems to afford the best protection.

This suggestion comes following previous research suggesting that physical activity can lessen both the risk of infection and the severity of respiratory infections due, at least in part, to its ability to bolster the immune system. It is important to note that while the link between regular physical activity and Covid-19 severity is poorly understood, researchers noted that it probably involves both metabolic and environmental factors. The researchers further set out to try and quantify the threshold of physical activity that might be needed to lessen the risks of infection and associated hospital admission and death, according to news agency ANI report.

What the research on physical movement and Covid-19 says: 

The researchers reportedly searched three major research databases for relevant studies published between November 2019 and March 2022, and from an initial haul of 291, pooled the results of 16 and the studies included a total of 1,853,610 adults, just over half of whom (54%) were women, while the average age of participants was 53, as per the report.

While most of the studies were observational and were carried out in South Korea, England, Iran, Canada, the UK, Spain, Brazil, Palestine, South Africa and Sweden, the pooled data analysis reportedly showed that, overall, those who included regular physical activity in their weekly routine had an 11% lower risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19.

Additionally, the report further highlights that those who worked out had a 36% lower risk of hospital admission, 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 around 500 Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) minutes a week, after which there were no further improvements, the report said.

However, the researchers caution that the analysis included observational studies, differing study designs, subjective assessments of physical activity levels, and concerned only the Beta and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 rather than Omicron, all of which may weaken the findings, as per the report. 

It is worth noting that there are plausible biological explanations for what they found, the researchers said, noting that regular moderate-intensity exercise may help to boost the body's anti-inflammatory responses, as well as cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, all of which may explain its beneficial effects on Covid-19 severity, they suggest.

In conclusion, the researchers state, "our findings highlight the protective effects of engaging in sufficient physical activity as a public health strategy, with potential benefits to reduce the risk of severe Covid-19. "Given the heterogeneity and risk of publication bias, further studies with standardised methodology and outcome reporting are now needed." 

(With inputs from ANI)

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