Life Wellbeing Regular exercise can reduce risk of developing and dying from pneumonia
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Regular exercise can reduce risk of developing and dying from pneumonia

Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria inside the alveoli of the lungs, causing pneumonia. Photo: Getty
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People who exercise regularly can reduce their risk of developing and dying from pneumonia, new research has found.

The findings came from a massive pooled analysis – involving more than a million participants –  of “all published studies to re-evaluate the relationship between regular exercise and the risk of developing pneumonia”.

Dr Setor Kunutsor, Senior Lecturer in Evidence Synthesis in the Bristol Medical School, and corresponding author, said, in a prepared statement: “In this first-ever pooled analysis of all studies conducted on the topic, we found strong and convincing evidence of a relationship between regular exercise and reduction in a person’s risk of developing pneumonia as well as death from the disease.”

Although the study couldn’t determine the amount and intensity of physical activity “which is essential to prevent pneumonia, some of the results suggest that walking for 30 minutes once a week has a protective effect on death due to pneumonia”.

The COVID-19 connection

The paper was published as the northern hemisphere was moving out of summer and into colder weather. But the message from the authors holds true for Down Under.

“During the winter months and with COVID-19 still circulating, developing severe pneumonia from COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases is a common occurrence,” Dr Kunutsor said.

“Taking regular physical activity could reduce the risk of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, especially in at-risk groups like older adults and those with underlying health conditions.”

In April, Californian researchers published a large study –  involving nearly 50,000 COVID-19 patients – that found physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes, including pneumonia.

Turning that around, the researchers concluded: “Consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults.”

Physical activity guidelines are the same as in Australia: Adults are recommended to be active most days, and perform 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week.

That’s about 20 to 40 minutes a day.

Smoking, heavy drinking, respiratory conditions such as asthma, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease, are well known to increase the risk of pneumonia, which is a preventable cause of death and disability.

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