Physical exercise confers positive health benefits on COVID-19 outcomes

A new study published in Plus one found that physical exercise positively influenced the prognosis of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Study: The Health Benefit of Exercise in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Evidence from Mainland China. Image credit: GP PIXSTOCK/Shutterstock

The results show relatively higher cure rates and lower morbidity and mortality associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection in areas where regular exercise was prevalent before the pandemic.

Background

Regular physical activity is a proven measure to strengthen the immune system. Stronger immunity offers a more powerful defense and immune response against invading pathogens, such as when fighting viral diseases. In addition, regular exercise is an effective way to manage most chronic diseases and has beneficial effects on physical and mental health.

Physical exercise improves the neurological system, bones and muscles, cardiopulmonary and circulatory functions, and cognitive abilities, while reducing the risks of developing diseases and premature death. Regular exercise is routinely recommended for the prevention and treatment of metabolic diseases and other chronic conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), hypertension, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and cancer, as well as depression and anxiety. It also helps strengthen the immune system, enhance immune function and reduce the likelihood, duration and severity of infections.

In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, regular physical activity could possibly increase the resistance of the immune system to SARS-CoV-2.

Despite the high success rate of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection and reducing the risk of severe symptoms and critical conditions, the spread of the virus is far from eradicated. This is due to the rapid evolution of the pathogen, conferring higher transmission and immune evasion properties to viral mutants or newer problematic variants (VOCs).

Many people are opposed to vaccines against COVID-19; some of the reasons are that vaccination carries additional dangers, including high mortality among the elderly. Other negative effects of vaccines are acute symptoms after vaccination; the impossibility of destroying the pathogen and its spread; and limited efficacy associated with infection by newer VOCs of SARS-CoV-2, eg the Omicron variant. Disparities in vaccine access and limited coverage in certain areas of developing countries have also contributed to low vaccination rates worldwide.

Thus, strengthening the immune system may be a crucial step in mitigating the pandemic and reducing the rate of symptomatic disease in the population. Furthermore, to enable large-scale management of COVID-19 and to address the global health infrastructure deficits seen in the earlier phases of the pandemic, pharmacological interventions need to be complemented with non-pharmacological ones.

In addition, to promote health and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is important to recognize the benefits of physical activity.

Learning

This study examined the public health effects of physical activity during the COVID-19 outbreak, with morbidity, mortality, and cure rates serving as health-related outcomes of interest.

Here, 279 Chinese cities at the prefecture level were analyzed. The investigation includes all provinces in mainland China and most prefectural cities. Data from the physical exercise panels were collected between January and March 2020.

Using the ordinary least squares method, multiple linear regression was used to estimate the physical exercise quotient (PEx). PEx information is collected from three sources – the National Fitness Development Survey Bulletin, the National Fitness Report, and the National Fitness Action Program.

The discoveries

The results show that regular physical activity can improve cure rates from COVID-19. The robustness test revealed that the regression coefficients of PEx on morbidity and mortality remained significantly negative, and those associated with cure rates remained significantly positive.

The findings suggest that in terms of cure rates, as well as morbidity and mortality, physical activity may confer more health benefits in high-risk locations for COVID-19 than in low-risk ones. Meanwhile, multiple factors such as public health initiatives, vaccine availability and vaccination coverage, demographic characteristics, environmental variables, and medical resources influence the outcomes of COVID-19.

The results of the study are consistent with previous findings about the benefits of physical activity to boost immunity and improve health. In high-risk settings, PEx has a stronger impact on morbidity, mortality, and cure rates; the difference in advantage appears to be greatest in terms of morbidity.

Conclusion

The findings show that individuals who engaged in regular physical activity prior to a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 had better disease prognosis and better health-related outcomes, especially in high-outbreak areas. Therefore, regular physical exercise can serve as an effective step in future prevention of the epidemic.

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