Regular Cardio Exercise Can Significantly Reduce Risk of Death From Flu, Pneumonia


At least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity found to improve outcomes in patients with flu or pneumonia.

Regular aerobic (cardio) exercise can significantly reduce the risk of death from flu or pneumonia, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Adults who met the recommended targets for aerobic activity reduced this risk by 36% when considering other factors.

Credit: Kiattisak -

Credit: Kiattisak -

The recommended duration that adults should perform aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise each week are:

  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, or equal durations of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activity.
  • Muscle-strengthening exercises (moderate or greater intensity) 2 times weekly.

Aerobic exercise, such as brisk/speed walking, swimming, running, and stair climbing, is sustained activity that increases the heart rate. Muscle strengthening activities relate to moving and lifting objects, such as weights, resistance bands, squats, lunges, and press-ups (calisthenics), and heavy gardening.

Investigators analyzed the responses of 577,909 adults who participated in a US nationally representative National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) between 1998 and 2018 to determine whether specific types or amounts of physical activity are associated with the risk of death from flu or pneumonia.

Investigators defined 5 levels of physical activity for aerobic activity: Below 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity; 10 to 149 minutes; 150 to 300 minutes; 301 to 600 minutes; or more than 600 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity. They defined 5 levels of physical activity for muscle strengthening activities: fewer than 2, 2, 3, 4 to 6, or 7 or more sessions per week.

Based on the level of physical activity, a participant either did not meet the aerobic or muscle-strengthening weekly target; met the aerobic activity target; met the muscle-strengthening target; or met both. At least 34% of participants were not aerobically active, 78% did less than 2 muscle-strengthening exercise sessions each week, and 50.5% did not meet either weekly target.

Participants who met the recommended weekly physical target reduced the risk of death from flu or pneumonia by 48% compared to those who did not meet either, after accounting for other influential factors. While 10 and 149 minutes of aerobic activity each week reduced the risk of death by 21% compared to those who did none, participants who did aerobic activity for 301 to 600 minutes per week more than doubled their protection against death compared to those who did 10 to 149 minutes (21% and 50%, respectively).

“Although [10-150 mins/week] is often labelled ‘insufficient’ because it falls below the recommended duration, it may confer health benefits relative to physical inactivity,” the investigators said in a press release.

Meeting the muscle-strengthening goals was associated with a 47% reduced risk, whereas 7 or more sessions were associated with a 41% increased risk of death.

Limitations of the study included that it was observational and researchers cannot establish cause; participants had to personally recall some information; the NHIS survey only collected leisure physical activity in stints of 10 minutes or more; and the study did not distinguish a difference between light and moderate intensity exercises.

“Efforts to reduce influenza and pneumonia mortality among adults might focus on decreasing the prevalence of aerobic inactivity and increasing the prevalence of achieving 2 episodes/week of muscle-strengthening activity,” the study authors said in the press release.


British Journal of Sports Medicine. Aerobic (“cardio”) exercise linked to significantly lower risk of flu or pneumonia death. News Release. May 16, 2023. Accessed on May 17, 2023.

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