Regular physical activity cuts the risk of dying from infectious diseases such as COVID-19 by 37 per cent and reduces the chance of catching the virus by 31 per cent, according to new global research.
The research carried out by an international team of researchers, led by Glasgow Caledonian University’s Professor of Health Behaviour Dynamics Sebastien Chastin, also found that physical activity can boost the effectiveness of vaccines by up to 40 per cent.
GCU conducted the full-scale systematic review of 16,698 worldwide epidemiological studies published between January 1980 and April 2020 with world-renowned immunologists and epidemiologists from University College London (UCL) and Ghent University (UGent) in Belgium, exercise and sports scientists from Cádiz University in Spain and a public health consultant from NHS Lanarkshire (NHSL).
The research found that 30-minutes of activity five days a week or 150-minutes per week that gets you slightly out of breath such as walking, running, cycling and strengthening exercises can have a massive impact on immunity to infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Scientists concluded that it can result in a “31 per cent decrease in the risk of infectious disease such as COVID- 19, a 37 per cent decrease in the risk of death as a consequence of infectious disease such as COVID-19 and an increase in the efficacy of vaccination against viral disease such as COVID-19.”
Professor Chastin said they found that physical activity “strengthens the first line of defence of the human immune system and a higher concentration of immune cells” in the world’s first study into the link between exercise and COVID-19 immunity.
The research entitled ‘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’ has been published in the Sports Medicine journal.
The findings have already gone to the Scottish Government and other governments around world as well as public health experts and healthcare professionals.
Professor Chastin said: “This research is hugely significant and could help to cut the number people contracting COVID-19 and dying from it. 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.
“Our findings have already gone to the Scottish Government, Public Health Scotland, Public Health England, the South African and Belgian governments, FIFA, and many other organisations. 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 are paramount. Campaigns to inform the public of the benefit of physical activity in fighting the pandemic should be undertaken.”
Other GCU researchers involved in the study were physical activity experts Dr Philippa Dall and Ukachukwu Abaraogu, sport and exercise psychologists Dr Elaine Duncan and Dr Joanna McParland, and respiratory specialist Dr Nicola Roberts.
They worked closely with UGent’s Professor of Exercise Physiology Jan Bourgois and exercise immunity expert Jasmien Dumortier, Mark Hamer, Professor of Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health (ISEH) at UCL, exercise and sports scientist David Jimenez Pavon from Cádiz University and NHS Lanarkshire Consultant in Public Health Dr Jennifer Darnborough.
Professor Chastin advised the public to build regular physical activity into their weekly routine to help them fight off the COVID-19 virus.
“Our research shows that if you are active – engaging in 150-minutes per week or 30-minutes five days a week protects you against the risk of infectious disease. You don’t need to go to a gym, as dancing around the living room, going for a run or walk is just as effective. In this period of pandemic being outside is better than in a gym or closed environment,” said Professor Chastin.
He added: “The clear message is stay active – it’s not only good for your mental and general health but we now have the proof that it is also good for boosting your immunity. You need to keep it up as it’s about regular exercise and making time to build it into your day.”