Regular exercise may boost the effectiveness of the COVID-19 jab, with the likelihood of serious infection increasing with a lack of physical activity carried out.
New convincing evidence published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that regular exercise could reduce the consequences of serious COVID-19 infection, risk of hospital admission, intensive care, assisted ventilation or death. Vaccines also minimise the risk.
Previous research has illuminated that regular exercise can be beneficial against various infections once vaccinated, implying that it enhances the body’s antibody response, but it is unknown whether this may apply to COVID-19.
Investigating the effects of regular exercise on infection susceptibility
To answer whether regular exercise successfully reduced serious COVID-19 infection, the researchers used anonymous medical records and wearable activity tracker data for healthcare workers belonging to a medical insurance scheme.
The participants were mapped regular exercise using their average monthly levels in the two years before the study. The researchers quantified exercise into three categories: under 60 minutes per week (low), 60-149 minutes (medium), and 150-minute plus (high).
COVID-19 swab test results were then analysed for 53,771 participants with low levels of physical activity, 62,721 with medium levels of exercise, and 79,952 with high regular exercise levels. Complete health, COVID-19 vaccination status and physical activity levels were also obtained for 196,444 adults who tested negative for SARS-CoV-2.
How exercise reduced serious illness from COVID-19
The researchers found that COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness in fully vaccinated participants in the low physical activity group was 60%. However, in the medium and high regular exercise groups, the risk of hospital admission was reduced by 72% and 86%.
Moreover, fully vaccinated individuals who partook in high levels of regular exercise were nearly three times less likely to be admitted to the hospital than those vaccinated in the low physical activity group. Individuals in the medium exercise group were almost 1.5 times less likely to be admitted to the hospital with a COVID-19 infection.
“The findings suggest a possible dose-response where high levels of physical activity were associated with higher vaccine effectiveness,” wrote the researchers.
“This substantiates the WHO recommendations for regular physical activity—namely, that 150–300 mins of moderate-intensity physical activity per week have meaningful health benefits in preventing severe disease, in this context against a communicable viral infection.”
The study is observational, therefore, cannot directly establish cause. The results may not apply to other populations, virus variants, or other types of COVID-19 vaccine.