Study Shows Even a 20-Minute Workout Might Help You Avoid COVID

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Key Takeaways

  • Researchers found people who exercise regularly have an 11% lower risk of contracting COVID-19 than those who don’t.
  • Regular exercisers also have a lowered risk of severe COVID and hospitalization from the virus.
  • Experts say more research is needed to explore the association.

New research has linked regular exercise with a lowered risk of getting COVID-19. And those who exercise regularly who do happen to get COVID-19 are less likely to develop a severe form of the disease.

That’s the major takeaway from a scientific review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. For the review, researchers analyzed data from 16 studies of 1.8 million people to look for links between physical activity and how well a person fared with COVID-19.

The researchers discovered that people who were physically active were about 11% less likely to get infected with the virus compared to their less active counterparts. When they did get infected, more active people were also about 36% less likely to be hospitalized and 43% less likely to die compared to their more sedentary counterparts.

Those who met the recommended amount of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise—just over 21 minutes a day—were at the lowest risk of COVID-related issues. For vigorous exercise, just 75 weekly minutes showed a strong protective effect.

“These kind of studies are needed to inform clinical decisions and public health strategies,” lead study author Yasmin Ezzatvar, a doctor of physical therapy and nursing instructor at University of Valencia, told Verywell.

In the paper, Ezzatvar and her coauthors concluded that their “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.”

There are some limitations to the research, though: Most studies were of people who reported their own exercise habits, and the majority of the data was collected before COVID-19 vaccines were widely available.

Why Might Exercise Lower Your Risk of COVID?

It’s important to point out that, while the study showed a statistically-significant lowered risk of contracting COVID-19 if you exercise regularly, it wasn’t a massive difference—just 11%. However, the study did find that exercising regularly seemed to lower the risk of complications from the virus.

Amesh A. Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who was not involved with the study, told Verywell that the findings aren’t surprising.

“Physical activity is part of being healthy and there are cascading impacts on the immune system that accrue when people are physically active,” he said.

In fact, an improved immune response is exactly what Ezzatvar credits.

“There is evidence that regular physical activity might contribute to a more effective immune response, providing enhanced protective immunity to infections, which could explain the relationship between exercise consistency with COVID-19 infection,” she said.

According to Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo, there could also be indirect links between exercise and COVID protection.

“It could be that exercise lowers your risk of obesity, a condition that puts you at increased risk of severe disease,” Russo told Verywell. “It could also be that people who exercise are more health-conscious than couch potatoes and take less health risks that put them at risk for getting COVID-19.”

Ultimately, Ezzatvar said the findings should encourage people to try to be physically active.

“Everybody can benefit from being more active, regardless of age, sex, or physical ability,” she said. “In contrast to the vast majority of drugs, exercise is free of adverse effects. It’s time to consider exercise as medicine. It’s never too late to start being physically active.”

What This Means For You

Being physically active may lower your risk of developing severe COVID and from getting the virus in the first place. But physical activity is also recommended for overall health. Strive to exercise for 150 minutes a week, if you can.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ezzatvar Y, Ramírez-Vélez R, Izquierdo M, Garcia-Hermoso A. Physical activity and risk of infection, severity and mortality of COVID-19: a systematic review and non-linear dose-response meta-analysis of data from 1 853 610 adults. Br J Sports Med. Published online August 22, 2022. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2022-105733

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.