Physical activity lowers the risk for acute respiratory infections: Time for recognition

J Sport Health Sci. 2022 Nov;11(6):648-655. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2022.08.002. Epub 2022 Aug 20.


Physical inactivity is a well-established risk factor for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes mellitus. There is a growing awareness that physical inactivity should also be regarded as a risk factor for acute respiratory infections (ARIs). ARIs, such as the common cold, influenza, pneumonia, and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), are among the most pervasive diseases on earth and cause widespread morbidity and mortality. Evidence in support of the linkage between ARIs and physical inactivity has been strengthened during the COVID-19 pandemic because of increased scientific scrutiny. Large-scale studies have consistently reported that the risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes is elevated in cohorts with low physical activity and/or physical fitness, even after adjusting for other risk factors. The lowered risk for severe COVID-19 and other ARIs in physically active groups is attributed to exercise-induced immunoprotective effects, including enhanced surveillance of key immune cells and reduced chronic inflammation. Scientific consensus groups, including those who submitted the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, have not yet given this area of research the respect that is due. It is time to add "reduced risk for ARIs" to the "Exercise is Medicine" list of physical activity-related health benefits.

Keywords: Acute respiratory infections; COVID-19; Immune system; Physical activity; Pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Physical Fitness