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Deep Dive: Exercise and Acute Respiratory Infections

Aerobic exercise may reduce the impact of short-term respiratory infections, but better evidence is needed.

Study under review: Exercise Versus No Exercise for the Occurrence, Severity, and Duration of Acute Respiratory Infections

Introduction

Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are a very common disease and cause an estimated 4.25 million deaths per year worldwide. By definition, ARIs last less than 30 days, and are typically classified as “upper” or “lower” based on the location of the infection relative to the vocal cords. Figure 1 depicts how the upper and lower respiratory tract are divided. Upper ARIs include tonsillitis, sinusitis, and the common cold. Lower ARIs are usually more dangerous and include bronchitis and pneumonia.

Figure 1: The upper and lower respiratory tract

The treatment of ARIs varies but typically involves rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and hydration. If bacteria or fungi are responsible for the ARI, antibiotics and antifungals may be used, respectively.

Exercise can be low cost and easy to implement, and it is known to improve general health by increasing VO2Max[1], strength, body composition[1], metabolic health, and immunity[2]. Given its effect on these aspects of health, it’s possible that exercise could also help reduce the frequency and severity of ARIs, which has been supported by some observational studies. Although there are several randomized controlled trials investigating this effect, the last systematic review on the topic was done in 2015[3]. Since then, several more studies have come out on the topic, but no further systematic reviews have been done. This prompted the authors of the 2015 review to update their findings.

Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are the most common disease that kill more than 4.25 million people worldwide every year. Exercise is low cost, easy to implement, and can improve many facets of health, including immunity, but no reviews on the impact of exercise on ARIs have been conducted since 2015.

What was studied?

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Other Articles in Issue #69 (July 2020)