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Aerobic exercise decreases the risk of death by flu or pneumonia, new study finds

As little as 10 minutes of physical activity a day makes a difference — anything is better than complete inactivity, which is all too common

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Runners compete in the Deseret News 10K in Salt Lake City.

Runners compete in the Deseret News 10K on Saturday, July 23, 2022 in Salt Lake City.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

A new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that increasing your exercise through aerobic and strength-training routines reduces the risk of death by flu and pneumonia.

The study looked at 577,900 individuals between 1998-2018 who took part in the U.S. National Health Interview Survey.

“Among 577,909 participants followed for a median of 9.23 years, 1,516 influenza and pneumonia deaths were recorded. Compared with participants meeting neither guideline, those meeting both guidelines had 48% lower adjusted risk of influenza and pneumonia mortality,” according to the study.

Of the participants in the study, “Half the respondents (50.5%) didn’t meet either weekly target. ... A third (34%) were aerobically inactive, and more than three quarters (78%) reported fewer than two weekly sessions of muscle strengthening activities,” per Neuroscience News.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that adults ages 18 to 64 should be participating in at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.

However, the new study found that even less than the recommended time can still significantly reduce the risk of flu and pneumonia. “Although (10-150 minutes/week) is often labelled ‘insufficient’ because it falls below the recommended duration, it may confer health benefits relative to physical inactivity,” the researchers suggested.

The study said that working out over the suggested amount of time did have health risks. “Meeting the target of two or more sessions lowered the mortality risk significantly, but getting seven or more sessions was associated with a 41% increased risk of death by flu or pneumonia,” per CNN.

The researchers emphasized that this is an observational study, so causes of mortality could be due to a variety of factors.

Lead study author Dr. Bryant Webber, an epidemiologist in the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, said that aerobic exercises were the most beneficial for reducing health risks.

Aerobic exercises are “cardio” activities or cardiovascular conditioning. Aerobic means “with oxygen.” This includes exercises like biking, running, brisk walking and swimming that get the heart pumping faster and increase oxygen intake.

“Our overarching advice for everyone — regardless of age or perceived physical fitness level — is to ‘move more and sit less,’” Webber told CNN. “Readers who do not get any physical activity should be encouraged that doing any is better than none.”