Physical exercise provides positive health benefits on COVID-19 outcomes

Ella Castle

A new study published in Plos One found that physical exercise positively affects coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) prognosis.  Study: The health benefit of physical exercise on COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from mainland China. Image Credit: GP PIXSTOCK/Shutterstock The results depicted comparatively higher cure rates and lower morbidity and mortality associated with severe acute […]

A new study published in Plos One found that physical exercise positively affects coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) prognosis. 

Study: The health benefit of physical exercise on COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from mainland China. Image Credit: GP PIXSTOCK/Shutterstock
Study: The health benefit of physical exercise on COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from mainland China. Image Credit: GP PIXSTOCK/Shutterstock

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

Background

Regular physical activity is a proven measure for boosting the immune system. Stronger immunity offers more potent protection and immune response against pathogen invasion, such as when combating viral illnesses. In addition, regular physical exercise is an effective modality in managing most chronic diseases and confers beneficial effects on physical and mental health. 

Physical exercise enhances the neurological system, bones, and muscles, cardiopulmonary and circulatory functions, and cognitive abilities, while decreasing risks of disease development 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 aids in fortifying the immune system, enhancing immunological function, and reducing the likelihood, duration, and severity of infections.

In the setting of the current COVID-19 pandemic, regular physical activity could conceivably enhance the immune system’s resistance to SARS-CoV-2.

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

Many people are against COVID-19 vaccines; some of the reasons are that vaccination may carry additional hazards. Other negative effects of vaccines are the acute symptoms post-vaccination; the inability to eradicate the pathogen and its spread; and limited efficacy relating to infection by the newer SARS-CoV-2 VOCs, for example, the Omicron variant. Disparities in access to vaccines and limited reach in certain areas of developing nations have also contributed to the low global vaccination rate.

Thus, strengthening the immune system can be a crucial step in mitigating the pandemic and reducing the rate of symptomatic disease among populations. Further, to make COVID-19 management feasible on a large scale and resolve the global healthcare infrastructural deficits experienced in the earlier pandemic phases, it is necessary to supplement pharmacological interventions with non-pharmacological ones. 

Moreover, to promote health and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is essential to acknowledge the benefits of physical activity. 

The study 

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

Here, 279 Chinese prefecture-level cities were analyzed. The investigation included all provinces in mainland China and most prefectural cities. Physical exercise panel data were collected between January-March, 2020. 

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

The findings

The results indicated that regular physical activity could improve the COVID-19 cure rate. The robustness test revealed that the regression coefficients of PEx on morbidity and mortality remained significantly negative, and those related to the cure rate remained significantly positive. 

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

The findings of the study are consistent with previous findings on the benefits of physical activity in boosting immunity and improving health. In high-risk settings, PEx has a stronger impact on morbidity, mortality, and cure rates; the differential advantage seems to be the largest in terms of morbidity. 

Inference

The findings project that individuals who engaged in regular physical activity before a broad COVID-19 outbreak had better disease prognosis and better health-related outcomes, especially in the areas with a major outbreak. Therefore, regular physical exercise can serve as an effective step in future epidemic prevention.

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