Physical exercise offers positive health benefits on COVID-19 outcomes

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

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

The results described 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.


Regular physical activity is a proven measure to boost the immune system. Stronger immunity provides more powerful protection and immune response against invading pathogens, such as when fighting viral diseases. In addition, regular physical exercise is an effective modality in the management of most chronic diseases and confers beneficial effects on physical and mental health.

Physical exercise improves the neurological system, bones and muscles, cardio-pulmonary and circulatory functions and cognitive abilities, while reducing the risk of developing diseases 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 helps fortify the immune system, improving immune function and reducing the likelihood, duration and severity of infections.

In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, regular physical activity could possibly strengthen the resistance of the immune system to SARS-CoV-2.

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

Many people are against COVID-19 vaccines; some of the reasons are that vaccination carries additional risks, including a high mortality rate in the elderly. Other negative effects of vaccines are acute post-vaccination symptoms; failure to eradicate the pathogen and its spread; and limited efficacy related to infection with novel SARS-CoV-2 COVs, e.g. the Omicron variant. Disparities in access to vaccines and their limited reach in some parts of developing countries 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 illness among populations. Furthermore, to make the management of COVID-19 feasible at scale and address the global healthcare infrastructure deficits encountered during the early pandemic phases, there is a need to complement pharmacological interventions with non-pharmacological interventions.

In addition, to promote health and maintain a healthy lifestyle, it is essential to recognize 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, mortality, and recovery rates serving as the health-related outcomes of interest.

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

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

The results

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

The results suggest that in terms of recovery rates, as well as morbidity and mortality, physical activity may provide more health benefits in high-risk COVID-19 settings than in low-risk ones. Meanwhile, multiple factors, such as public health initiatives, vaccine availability and coverage, demographics, environmental variables, and medical resources, influence COVID-19 outcomes.

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


The results predict that people who engaged in regular physical activity before a large outbreak of COVID-19 had better disease prognosis and better health-related outcomes, especially in areas where a major outbreak occurred. produced. Therefore, regular physical exercise can be an effective step in preventing future outbreaks.

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