Undertaking regular physical activity could cut the risk of dying from infectious diseases – such as COVID-19 – by more than a third (37 per cent), according to new research.
A study by an international team of researchers, led by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), also found that physical activity can reduce the chance of catching the virus by 31 per cent while boosting the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 40 per cent.
Led by GCU's professor of health behaviour dynamics, Sebastien Chastin, the study is believed to be the first in the world to look into the link between exercise and COVID-19 immunity.
It is based on a full-scale systematic review of 16,698 worldwide epidemiological studies published between January 1980 and April 2020.
The research found that 30-minutes of activity that gets people out of breath – such as walking, running, cycling and strengthening exercises – five days a week (or 150-minutes per week) can have a massive impact on immunity to infectious diseases.
Professor Chastin said the results show how physical activity “strengthens the first line of defence of the human immune system and a higher concentration of immune cells".
"This research is hugely significant and could help to cut the number of people contracting COVID-19 and dying from it," Chastin said.
"It is the first piece of research that proves regular physical activity protects you against infectious disease.
“We found that regular exercise where you get out of breath boosts your immunity to infectious disease by 31 per cent and it increases the number of immune cells in the body in the first line of defence which is the mucosal layer of antibodies.
"These cells are responsible for identifying foreign agents in the body without depressing the rest of the immune system so it’s perfectly safe and protects you against infectious disease.
“We also found that if you add physical activity to your vaccination programme it increases the potency of the vaccination. We are recommending a 12-weeks physical activity programme before vaccination which could result in 20 to 40 per cent more effective immunisation."
The research – titled Effects of regular physical activity on the immune system, vaccination and risk of community-acquired infectious disease in the general population: Systematic review and meta-analysis – was published in the Sports Medicine journal.
The findings have been sent to the Scottish Government and other governments, public health experts and healthcare professionals around the world – including Public Health Scotland, Public Health England, the South African and Belgian governments and football's world governing body FIFA.
Chastin added: "Policymakers need to do everything they possibly can to fight this disease. This is not a panacea but another cheap tool we can use to protect the public.
“The promotion of physical activity and access for all to physical activity pursuit is paramount.
"Campaigns to inform the public of the benefit of physical activity in fighting the pandemic should be undertaken.”
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