Looking for a new reason to exercise?

Here’s an example: A large international research review discovered that regular exercise appears to significantly reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19.

If you do get COVID-19, the study discovered that regular moderate and/or intense exercise dramatically reduces your chances of serious illness, hospitalization, and/or death.

“There is evidence that regular physical activity may contribute to a more effective immune response, providing enhanced protective immunity to infections,” study author Antonio Garcia-Hermoso explained. In Pamplona, Spain, he works as a senior researcher for Navarrabiomed and the Universidad Pblica de Navarra.

The apparent link between regular activity and lower COVID-19 risk is the result of a thorough examination of the findings of 16 studies conducted around the world between 2019 and 2022. They totaled more than 1.8 million men and women (average age: 53). The majority of the studies were carried out in the United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, Iran, Spain, Brazil, Palestine, South Africa, and Sweden.

Researchers discovered that participants who reported being routinely active were 11% less likely to become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, than inactive participants.

In addition, among those who did become ill, regular physical activity was associated with a 36% lower risk of hospitalization. Routine exercise was also associated with a 34% lower risk of severe illness, and a 43% lower risk of dying.

Researchers discovered that roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes of moderately intense exercise per week — or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise — provided the most comprehensive protection against the virus.

The researchers presented their findings with a word of caution: the studies they examined differed in their methodology. None investigated the possibility of experimenting with different exercise regimens, instead relying on observations from participants’ usual routines. Furthermore, the studies were all conducted prior to the emergence of the now common highly contagious Omicron variants.

Nonetheless, exercise is likely beneficial for a variety of reasons, according to the researchers. They emphasized the ability of exercise to reduce inflammation and stress while improving heart health and immunity. Furthermore, routine activity, according to Garcia-Hermoso, can reduce known “risk factors for a worse prognosis of COVID-19, such as obesity or high blood pressure.”

Dr. Armeen Poor, an attending physician in pulmonary critical care medicine at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York City, believes the findings make a lot of sense for all of these reasons.

“We know that regular exercise has a wide range of benefits that can be protective in countless ways,” said Poor, who reviewed the findings.

“People who exercise regularly will definitely reduce their chances of being in the higher risk categories that we know are more likely to have adverse outcomes from severe COVID-19,” he added.

Poor also mentioned a “strong link between regular exercise and obesity,” with obesity putting patients at a higher risk of poor COVID-19 outcomes.

“Adipose tissue — or fat — has inflammatory properties, so reducing that with regular exercise can go a long way toward helping people feel better and preventing significant disease,” he explained.

People who exercise regularly, according to Poor, “may also have healthier backgrounds and practice other healthier habits that are likely protective, which could be influencing the outcomes in this data.” Yet overall, he said, the conclusions might be expected.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise to us that routine physical activity can help us feel and live better,” Poor said.