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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Dobbs

Study shows that physical Inactivity is linked to worse outcomes for Covid-19

What research paper is this, and what is it? Why is it important?

This paper was conducted by Dr Robert Sallis and colleagues in California. It was published recently in the British Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected peer reviewed medical journals worldwide. In the study, the researchers looked at physical activity levels as indicator of hospital admissions and death from Covid-19. They looked at data of 48,800 patients collected over 2 years prior to March 2020. Mean age was 47.5 years.

We know so far from our experience with Covid-19 that age, certain underlying conditions and overweight are major risk factors. Here, the researchers looked at physical activity levels as marker, which is interesting because it is a marker virtually all of us can influence easily and independently.

What this paper found was that patients who were consistently inactive had the highest rate of admission to ICU or risk of death. This is significant because it may be the second biggest risk factor for a favourable Covid outcome after vaccination.

"It is notable that being consistently inactive was a stronger risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant.1 In fact, physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor across all outcomes, compared with the commonly cited modifiable risk factors, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer."

How much exercise are we talking about?

The researchers looked at self-evaluated activity levels of health insurance members. Activity levels were inactive = 1-10mins per week, some activity = 11-149mins per week, and active = 150+mins per week).

The more physical activity you engage in, the better your outcome. But even gentle walks on some days of the week make a big difference. The recommendation is: 30 mins walk 5 days per week. Go with a friend, have a chat. Or listen to your favourite podcast. Take time out for yourself.

So even when you have several risk factors or underlying conditions, you can still improve outcome from Covid with exercise.

What are my recommendations?

Get up off the couch and walk! Get active. Sign up to a gym and ask for a personal training programme. Start swimming or just do a few easy exercises at home. Join a Zoom class. You don’t need to follow a programme, all you need to do is walk 30 mins on 3-5 days per week.

You get all this Covid protection from a humble walk .. and we haven’t even touched on the benefits of exercise to improve mental health and physical wellbeing otherwise.

It’s also significant for us coming out of lockdowns – having had reduced ability to exercise has stifled our own ability to fight off Covid. So make sure you work out now.

“Consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults. We recommend efforts to promote physical activity be prioritised by public health agencies and incorporated into routine medical care. “

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