Cardio exercise can help reduce risk of dying from flu, study suggests

People who are at a higher risk of dying from flu could benefit from upping their cardio exercise levels, a new study suggests.

Even exercising below the nationally recommended standards could help reduce a person’s risk of dying from flu or pneumonia, scientists said.

The new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, also found that doing muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week can protect against flu or pneumonia death.

But doing muscle-strengthening exercises seven times a week or more was linked to a higher risk.

Academics, led by experts from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, set out to examine the link between ‘leisure time physical activity’ and flu and pneumonia deaths.

They looked at records from more than half a million adults in the US who submitted information on their physical activity levels between 1998 and 2018.

During the follow-up period, which was an average of nine years, some 1,516 people died as a result of flu or pneumonia.

People who were meeting regular exercise recommendations – 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise and two episodes a week of muscle-strengthening activity – were found to be 48% less likely to die from flu or pneumonia compared with those who were not exercising as much.

But even those who managed between 10 and 149 minutes of cardio each week were found to have a 21% reduced risk compared with those who did no exercise at all.

And when focusing on muscle-strengthening activities, including lifting weights and working with resistance bands, the researchers found that people who performed two rounds of these activities a week had a 47% reduced risk of flu and pneumonia death compared with people who did fewer than two muscle-strengthening activities a week.

But they also found that people who performed muscle-strengthening activities seven times a week or more actually had a 41% increased risk.

“Aerobic physical activity, even at quantities below the recommended level, may be associated with lower influenza and pneumonia mortality,” the authors wrote.

“Two episodes a week of muscle-strengthening activity was associated with lower risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality, whereas seven or more episodes per week was associated with higher risk.”