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[MOVE IT!] Regular physical activity tied to lower risk of COVID infection, severity

Regular physical activity is linked to a lower risk of COVID-19 infection and lower severity, including hospital admission and death, according to a pooled data analysis of the available evidence. A weekly tally of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous- intensity physical activity seems to afford the best protection, the analysis suggests.

The analysis included studies with a total of 1,853,610 adults, just over half of whom (54%) were women. The average age of participants was 53. Most of the studies were carried out in South Korea, England, Iran, Canada, the UK, Spain, Brazil, Palestine, South Africa and Sweden.

Overall, those who included regular physical activity in their weekly routine had an 11% lower risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2; 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. METS express the amount of energy (calories) expended per minute of physical activity, and 500 of them are the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, physical activity.

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. But there are plausible biological explanations for what they found, they say. 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.

Read the British Journal of Sports Medicine article here,

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