Study: Protect Yourself from Flu with Aerobic Activity

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A new research study[1] shows that strenuous-intensity aerobic physical activity for at least 75 min/week has significant health benefits and can help defend against disease and mortality from infectious illnesses.

Best time to exercise? Probably the evening as this study showed the greatest metabolic benefits when exercising in the evening.
A study shows that those who pursue aerobic activity can better resist the influenza virus.

What was the Goal of the Research Study?

This study aimed to expand on the influenza and pneumonia findings presented by Zhao and colleagues. In an earlier study they conducted on leisure-time physical activity and cause-specific mortality among National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) participants from 1997 through 2014, they noted that US adults who completed the aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines had a 54% lower adjusted risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality, compared to those who didn’t meet any guideline.

Influenza and pneumonia rank in the top ten causes of death in the USA before and after the coming of COVID-19. The researchers sought to explain the connection between the types and amounts of physical activity with influenza and pneumonia mortality risk using a larger population, additional follow-up time, the inclusion of vaccination status, and more granular categories of aerobic exercise and MSA.

best time to exercise
Running at sunset.

What were the Research Methods of the Study?

A nationally representative sample of US adults (18 yo and older) who joined the National Health Interview Survey from 1998 to 2018 were observed for mortality through 2019. Participants were categorized as meeting both physical activity guidelines if they reported 150 min/week of moderate-intensity equivalent aerobic physical activity and two or more episodes/week of muscle-strengthening training. Participants were also categorized into five volume-based categories of self-reported aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Mortality risk was evaluated using Cox proportional hazards, adapting for sociodemographic and lifestyle factors, health conditions, and influenza and pneumococcal vaccination status. Data were examined in 2022.

What were the Results and Conclusions of the Findings?

Among 577,909 participants followed for an average of 9.23 years, 1,516 influenza and pneumonia deaths were registered. Participants who met the guidelines had a 48% lower adjusted risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality compared with participants meeting neither guideline. Guideline compliance was remarkably different by age category, sex, race/ethnicity, education, marital status, alcohol consumption, smoking status, BMI category, presence of each underlying health condition, and receipt of influenza or pneumococcal vaccine. Even at quantities below the recommended level, aerobic physical activity may be associated with lower influenza and pneumonia mortality, while muscle-strengthening activity demonstrated a J-shaped relationship.

The technique of breaking up exercise into short "snacks" instead of long workouts is known as Exercise snacks. It has been shown to lead to measurable increases in cardio fitness - even when done infrequently.
Running up stairs is a good aerobic activity.

Recommendations for Fitness Trainees Based on the Research

Leisure-time aerobic physical activity was associated with a significantly lower risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality among US adults, even at an amount below the recommended level. With this, the WHO and the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults perform 150 min/per week or more of moderate-intensity equivalent aerobic physical activity and two episodes/per week or more of muscle-strengthening activities. Two episodes/week of muscle-strengthening activity was associated with a lower influenza and pneumonia mortality risk.


1. “Leisure-time physical activity and mortality from influenza and pneumonia: a cohort study of 577 909 US adults”