People who live a sedentary lifestyle which involves little or no physical activity are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 infection and die from the illness.
According to a large US study, COVID patients who had a sedentary lifestyle during the 2 years before the pandemic were at a higher risk of hospitalisation, admission to intensive care units (ICUs), and death than those who had some physical activity.
In fact, physical inactivity was the third biggest risk factor for severe disease after being old and having had an organ transplant.
Pervious research has suggested that the risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 increases with age, sex (being a male), obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Despite the fact that being sedentary is associated with many chronic health conditions, none of these studies identified physical inactivity as a risk factor for severe COVID outcomes.
This study tracked 48,440 obese COVID patients to see whether physical inactivity has any effect on severity of coronavirus disease.
Activity levels were categorised into:
- consistently meeting physical activity guidelines (150 minutes or more per week),
- some activity (11 to 149 minutes per week),
- and consistently inactive (zero to 10 minutes per week).
Data analysis showed a strong link between consistently meeting physical activity guidelines and lower risk of severe outcomes from COVID.
Consistently inactive COVID patients were at twice the risk of hospitalisation than those who were active for 150 minutes or more per week.
Moreover, inactive patients were 73 percent more likely to be taken to the ICU and 2.5 times more likely to die of the infection.
Compared to those who were doing some physical activity, the consistently inactive group had a 20 percent higher risk of hospitalisation, 20 percent higher risk of ICU admission, and 32 percent higher risk of death.
The authors remarked:
“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 [The Centers for Disease Control] except for age and a history of organ transplant.
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 [high blood pressure], cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
“Engaging in regular [physical activity] may be the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.
This message is especially important given the increased barriers to achieving regular [physical activity] during lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions.”
The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (Sallis et al., 2021).