Physical activity, stress, and self-reported upper respiratory tract infection

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011 Feb;43(2):272-9. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181edf108.


Purpose: upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) is the most common reason for seeking primary care in many countries. Still, little is known about potential strategies to reduce susceptibility. We investigated the relationships between physical activity level, perceived stress, and incidence of self-reported URTI.

Methods: we conducted a population-based prospective cohort study of 1509 Swedish men and women aged 20-60 yr with a follow-up period of 4 months. We used a Web-based questionnaire to assess disease status and lifestyle factors at the start of the study. We assessed physical activity and inactivity as total MET-hours (MET task) per day and perceived stress by the 14-item Perceived Stress Scale. Participants were contacted every 3 wk via e-mail to assess incidence of URTI. They reported a total of 1181 occurrences of URTI. We used Poisson regression models to control for age, sex, and other potential confounding factors.

Results: we found that high levels of physical activity (≥ 55 MET·h·d) were associated with an 18% reduced risk (incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 0.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.69-0.98) of self-reporting URTI compared with low levels of physical activity (<45 MET·h·d). This association was stronger among those reporting high levels of stress (IRR = 0.58, 95% CI = 0.43-0.78), especially among men (IRR = 0.37, 95% CI = 0.24-0.59), but absent in the group with low levels of stress.

Conclusions: we found that high physical activity was associated with a lower risk of contracting URTI for both men and women. In addition, we found that highly stressed people, particularly men, appear to benefit more from physical activity than those with lower stress levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / physiopathology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Young Adult