The benefits of being physically active have been known for years. Regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing chronic cardiometabolic “lifestyle” diseases such as type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic, examining the additional benefits that regular physical activity could provide is particularly relevant. Using the Kaiser Permanente clinical database, a recent study examined the potential benefits of being physically active on hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit admissions and mortality in a sample of more than 48,000 adult patients who had received a COVID-19 diagnosis between 1 January 2020 and 21 October 2020. These results were recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
These patients, whose level of exercise had been measured at least three times between 19 March 2018 and 18 March 2020 (self-reported), were divided into three physical activity categories: 1- consistently inactive (1-10 min/week); 2- doing some activity (11-149 min/week); 3- consistently meeting guidelines (150+ min/week). Patients who were consistently inactive during the 2 years preceding the pandemic had 2.26 times greater odds of being hospitalised (95% CI: 1.81-2.83) than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines. Moreover, these patients also had greater odds of being admitted to the intensive care unit (OR 1.73, 95% CI: 1.18-2.55) and of dying (OR 2.49, 95% CI: 1.33-4.67) than patients who were consistently meeting guidelines. Patients who were doing some activity had a 1.89 greater odds of being hospitalised (95% CI: 1.53-2.33), a 1.58 greater odds of being admitted to the intensive care unit (95% CI: 1.10-2.27) and a 1.88 greater odds of dying (95% CI: 1.02-3.47) than patients who were consistently meeting guidelines.
This study reinforces once more the key role played by physical activity in order to limit the risk of developing serious complications associated with COVID-19. Even more importantly, this study underlines that the favorable impacts of physical activity are observed at levels below the current recommendations of moving more than 150 minutes per week. As many research teams are exploring new therapeutic options to limit the devastating complications of COVID-19, these results highlight the relevance of physical activity as an inexpensive non-pharmacological approach.