Being the most protected against serious consequences after a Covid-19 infection is largely attributed to vaccination. But, shooting efficiency can be improved by physical activity, according to a new study.
High levels of physical activity appeared to be associated with greater efficacy of the primary series of the Covid-19 vaccination, according to new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“The higher the exercise dose, the greater the protective effect, obviously to some extent,” said Jon Patricios, professor of sports and exercise medicine at Wits University in Johannesburg and co- author of the study, to CNBC Make It.
So how often and how hard should you exercise to get the most out of your Covid-19 vaccinations? Here’s what Patricios and his co-authors discovered.
2.5 hours of exercise per week may increase protection against severe Covid consequences in vaccinated people
Researchers found that vaccinated people best protected against serious consequences, such as hospitalization, after Covid-19 infection followed these exercise guidelines:
- Frequency: They did at least 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, of physical activity each week.
- Intensity: Their physical activity was of moderate intensity, which means that their heart rate was between 70% and 79% of their maximum heart rate during exercise.
Participants in this group were 2.8 times less likely to develop serious consequences of Covid-19 than people who rarely exercise. Or, in simpler terms, their vaccines were 25% more effective at protecting them from these outcomes than sedentary people.
In a video embedded in the study, visual depictions of weightlifting and running are highlighted as some of the exercises the group engaged in.
“It’s likely that at a higher level of physical activity you get a more positive stimulation of that immune response,” says Dr. Elizabeth Joy, senior medical director of wellness and nutrition at Intermountain Healthcare, who did not participate in the study. .
“This, in turn, leads to the observed decrease in disease burden.”
Yet even vaccinated people who exercised between 60 minutes and 149 minutes were 1.4 times less likely to have severe cases of Covid infection.
This is how the study was conducted
The researchers analyzed data collected from South Africa’s largest health insurer on nearly 200,000 vaccinated adults in the country, including both men and women. At the time the study was conducted, only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was available.
The data included Covid-19 PCR test results from February to October 2021. And minutes of physical activity, step count and heart rate data were tracked for each person using a wearable device.
Exercise may also reduce risk of severe Covid outcomes in unvaccinated people
“We had another study that showed that in people who got Covid — and they were unvaccinated people — those who did the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week had better results,” says Patricios.
“They were admitted to hospitals less, fewer of them were in intensive care and on ventilators and fewer of them died.”
Similar to his research, a study was conducted on more than 48,000 participants with Covid, before vaccines became available, to determine whether exercise was associated with a lower risk of serious consequences from the disease.
The researchers found that those who walked or exercised regularly, before infection, were about half as likely to be hospitalized due to Covid.
“It just adds to that evidence base that people who are more physically active are healthier,” says Joy.
Although it has been widely studied that exercise can reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases like dementia and cancer, “physical activity is also an effective strategy to prevent communicable diseases like Covid-19”, notes Joy.
When it comes to physical activity for better health outcomes, she says, “none is bad, some is good. [and] more is better.”
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