Can Exercise Protect Against Severe COVID-19?

A retrospective study showed that exercise was found to have a protective association to adverse COVID-19 outcomes.

A recent study showed that being physically inactive and contracting COVID-19 led to a greater chance of hospitalization and mortality.

“In the full sample, those who were consistently inactive were 191% more likely to be hospitalized and 391% more likely to die than those who were consistently active,” the investigators wrote.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

This was a retrospective cohort study done with Kaiser Permanente Southern California adult patients who had test positive for COVID-19 between January 1, 2020 and May 31, 2021.

The investigators said the exposure was the median of at least 3 physical activity self-reports before diagnosis. They placed the patients into four categories including: “always inactive, all assessments at 10 minutes/week or less; mostly inactive, median of 0–60 minutes per week; some activity, median of 60–150 minutes per week; consistently active, median>150 minutes per week; and always active, all assessments>150 minutes per week.”

The study outcomes looked at hospitalization, a deterioration event, or mortality with 90 days of COVID-19 diagnosis.

Within the study period, investigators reported that 194,191 adults had COVID-19, and that 12,530 (6.3%) patients were hospitalized, 5,943 (3.1%) experienced a deterioration event, and 5,427 (2.8%) patients died within 90 days of a COVID-19 diagnosis.

“There was a higher prevalence of adverse COVID-19 outcomes across lower physical activity categories; patients classified as always inactive had the highest prevalence of hospitalization, deterioration event, or death,” they wrote.

The investigators also found the higher odds of adverse COVID-19 outcomes in the physical inactive across all racial and ethnic categories, all BMI categories, most age groups, and people with and without diagnoses of cardiovascular disease or hypertension.

The authors did note there was some variations across the aforementioned categories, “with trends for lesser effect sizes in the older ages and higher BMI categories.”

“Regardless of demographic factors and common chronic health conditions, results suggest that reducing physical inactivity may be one pathway to lowering the odds of adverse COVID-19 outcomes,” the investigators wrote.

This study may point to bigger public health implications when considering preventative means for COVID-19.

“Public health leaders should add physical activity to pandemic control strategies,” the investigators concluded.

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