New study shows exercise can reduce pneumonia risk

graphic showing human lungs highlighted in body

Exercise – we all know how good it is for us. It helps keep your weight down, your muscles and joints in good order and it pumps smile-making endorphins through your bodies. Despite that knowledge, many struggle to make or find the time to do that exercise.

Perhaps if we just find one more incentive to don tracksuit pants and runners we might be convinced to head out the front door. Well, dear reader, that incentive has arrived.

A new study has provided us with strong evidence that regular exercise plays a role in reducing the risk of contracting – and dying from – pneumonia. With COVID still rampaging throughout Australia and the flu season cranking up, reducing our chances of contracting pneumonia has got to be a good thing.

Read: Flu and pneumonia vaccinations linked to reduced Alzheimer’s risk

The research, published in GeroScience, the official journal of the American Aging Association (AGE), effectively created a study involving a pool of more than one million participants by doing “a systematic review and meta-analysis of all published observational cohort studies to date”.

This analysis enabled the authors to evaluate the relationship between regular exercise and the risk of developing pneumonia. Prior to this research, there was no certainty that any such relationship existed.

But the new study, published late last year, has established a strong link. Even after the researchers accounted for factors that can affect pneumonia risk, including age, sex, weight, wealth, alcohol use, smoking and pre-existing health conditions, the link evidence remained strong.

Read: Doctors warn of dangers of ‘vaccine fatigue’ ahead of flu season

Dr Setor Kunutsor, a senior lecturer in evidence synthesis at Bristol University Medical School in the UK and co-author of the study, said: “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.”

Pneumonia has been a leading cause of death among older people, the young and people with pre-existing health conditions. As recently as 2016, the disease was the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

Read: Podcast: Healthy ageing through diet and exercise

In further good news, it seems only a moderate amount of exercise is required for the link to hold. According to a statement released by Dr Kunutsor: “Though our study could not determine the amount and intensity of physical activity that 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 authors have added the usual caveat, that while the findings ultimately report an association between exercise and reduced pneumonia risk, the relationship is not necessarily one of cause and effect.

So, if you’ve been putting off throwing on that sweatshirt and heading out for a morning walk or jog, you now have one less reason for doing so. And when you get back and tuck into breakfast, you’ll likely feel better for it – even if that’s for no other reason than the knowledge that you might just have staved off a nasty bout of pneumonia.

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