Run for your life! Cardio exercise could significantly slash flu, pneumonia death risk

ATLANTA — Engaging in cardiovascular exercise could decrease the risk of death from flu or pneumonia by 36 percent. The study also finds that incorporating two weekly muscle-strengthening sessions could reduce the risk of death nearly by half.

Current guidelines recommend adults participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise each week. Additionally, adults should engage in moderate or intense muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.

The researchers analyzed data from nearly 578,000 adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey conducted between 1998 and 2018. The study found that participants who met both the recommended cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening targets had their risk of death from flu or pneumonia reduced by 48 percent compared to those who met neither target.

Those who only achieved the aerobic activity target had a 36-percent lower risk. In general, engaging in 10-149, 150-300, and 301-600 minutes per week of aerobic physical activity was associated with a 21, 41, and 50-percent lower risk, respectively. However, researchers did not observe any additional benefits among people exceeding 600 weekly minutes of activity.

“Although [10-150 mins/week] is often labeled ‘insufficient’ because it falls below the recommended duration, it may confer health benefits relative to physical inactivity,” says Dr. Bryant Webber from the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a media release.

Resistance band training
The study also suggests increasing muscle-strengthening activity.
Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash

When examining muscle-strengthening activities, meeting the weekly target of two sessions displayed a connection with a 47-percent lower risk compared to fewer than two weekly sessions. Interestingly, conducting seven or more sessions per week led to a 41-percent higher risk, suggesting that excessive muscle workouts could potentially be harmful.

Cardiovascular, or aerobic, exercises include activities like brisk walking, swimming, running, and stair climbing. Muscle-strengthening activities can involve weight lifting, resistance band exercises, squats, lunges, push-ups, and even gardening.

Participants in the survey were categorized based on their adherence to the recommended weekly targets for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. They reported their weekly durations of moderate to vigorous physical activity and the frequency of their muscle-strengthening sessions. Remarkably, half of the participants did not meet either of the weekly targets, and 34 percent reported being aerobically inactive. A significant 78-percent reported engaging in fewer than two weekly sessions of muscle-strengthening activities.

During an average tracking period of nine years, 81,431 participants died, with 1,516 deaths linked to flu and pneumonia. Pneumonia, a type of chest infection, and flu can be extremely dangerous. According to the American Thoracic Society, pneumonia causes more than 50,000 deaths annually in the United States every year.

Factors such as sociodemographic and lifestyle aspects, underlying health conditions, and whether individuals had received vaccinations against flu and pneumonia also significantly influenced the results. As an observational study, researchers were unable to determine the definitive cause of their findings.

“Efforts to reduce influenza and pneumonia mortality among adults might focus on decreasing the prevalence of aerobic inactivity and increasing the prevalence of achieving two episodes per week of muscle-strengthening activity,” concludes Dr. Webber.

The study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

South West News Service writer Alice Clifford contributed to this report.

YouTube video