Physical inactivity doubles the risk of severe covid infection

Advanced age, smoking, obesity or poverty, as well as suffering from diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer or Alzheimer’s, among others, are risk factors that can define the gravity with which covid-19 will affect people.

In addition, now a study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and prepared by a team from the department of Family and Sports Medicine at the Kaiser Permamente center (USA), has observed that physical inactivity is also related to a covid infection -19 more serious and a increased risk of dying because of the disease.

A simple walk at a brisk pace is considered physical exercise

Robert Sallis (Kaiser Permanente Medical Center)

“We are convinced that the results of this study represent a clear guideline that can be used by everyone to reduce the risk of suffering from covid-19 in a serious way, including death,” he tells SINC Robert Sallis, a family medicine doctor from this American center and first author of the study.

To come up with this claim, the researchers collected data on physical activity from 48,440 patients adults with confirmed covid-19 infection between January and October 2020. As they established, a simple walk at a fast pace could be considered as physical exercise.

The mean age of the patients was 47 years; almost two thirds were women (62%). The study reports that about half did not have any underlying disease, such as diabetes, COPD, cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease and cancer; almost one in five (18%) had only one; and almost a third (32%) had two or more.

The patients were followed-up through surveys, in which they asked how many days a week they exercised, at what intensity and, on average, how many minutes they exercised at that level.

Three levels of activity

Then, they established three levels of activity: those who performed some type of physical activity between 0 and 10 minutes a week were considered “constantly inactive”; those who exercised for 150 minutes a week or more “met the recommended guidelines”By the experts; In between, those who practiced physical exercise between 11 and 149 minutes a week became part of the group of those who did “some activity”.

According to the results obtained, only 6.4% consistently complied with the physical activity guidelines; 14.4% were constantly inactive and the rest reported some physical activity.

In parallel, among all the patients with COVID-19 selected for the study, 8.6% were hospitalized, 2.4% were admitted to the ICU, and 1.6% died.

Physical inactivity was the most notable risk factor in the results, compared to common risk factors, such as smoking, obesity or diabetes

When combining and analyzing both data, the authors found that those who did not perform physical exercise had more than twice as likely of being admitted to the hospital compared to those who recorded more than 150 minutes of physical exercise per week.

“In fact, physical inactivity was the most notable risk factor in the results, compared to commonly cited risk factors, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer, “says Sallis.

The odds of death were 2.49 times higher for patients who did not exercise, compared to patients who did it consistently. In addition, the inactive were 1.73 times more likely to require the admission to ICU versus assets.

With this study, its leaders hope that the message that “with a little exercise you can go a long way” will be heard and put into practice.

Despite the close relationship between physical exercise and severity of the disease found, the authors have not been able to establish the reason that would explain it, as it is an observational study

“In general, walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and at a moderate pace it will have an enormous protective effect against covid-19 ”, recommends Sallis. “The way someone can measure if they are walking at a moderate pace is that they are too exhausted to sing but can still speak,” he exemplifies.

Despite the close relationship between physical exercise and severity of the disease that the researchers indicate, they have not been able to establish the reason that would explain it.

“As it is an observational study, we cannot know for sure. However, regular physical activity is associated with improvements in lung capacity, cardiovascular health, and muscle strength, which in turn can help mitigate the negative effects of covid-19 if it contracts. Regular exercise is also known to improve immune function and lead to improvements in all other chronic diseases that are associated with severe coronavirus outcomes, ”Sallis concludes.


Sallis, Robert et al. “Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48,440 adult patients”. British Journal of Sports Medicine (2021)

Fountain: SINC

Rights: Creative Commons.

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