Science shows us that physical activity helps us feel better and prevents or slows down many diseases, including Heart disease, cancer, and dementia. It even helps us Live longer. For these reasons, the US Physical Activity Guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly. Now, a study by doing British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that routine activities can help protect people who contract COVID-19 from becoming seriously ill.
Movement as a vital sign
Healthcare providers at Kaiser Permanente, a major California healthcare system, routinely ask all of their patients two simple questions about their physical activity. Together they are referred to as “exercise vital signs”.
- How many days per week do you practice moderate to strenuous exercise (such as a brisk walk) on average? The answer options are 0 to 7 days.
- How many minutes do you train at this level on average? The possible answers are 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, 150 or more minutes.
Research shows that these questions measure people Activity level pretty good. they also predict some medical problems, like high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Many health problems that are well associated with a lack of physical activity – such as being overweight, obese, diabetes, and heart disease – are also associated with. connected higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. But only a few studies directly examined a lack of physical activity as a possible risk factor.
How was this study conducted?
The researchers analyzed anonymized data from more than 48,000 adults over the age of 18 who had confirmed COVID-19 between January and October 2020. All had been patients with Kaiser Permanente for at least six months before testing positive for COVID-19 and had at least three Exercise Vital Sign readings on file. Within this health system, 43% of the patients are Latinx, 34% are white, about 11% are black, and about 10% are Asian or Pacific islanders. The highest rates of COVID-19 were among those who were Latinx: 65% compared to 18% (whites), 7% (blacks), and 6% (Asian or Pacific islanders).
The entire group was divided into three categories:
- those who consistently met activity guidelines of more than 150 minutes per week in all three measurements
- those who were consistently inactive for only 0 to 10 minutes per week in all three measurements
- those who were active in the range of 11 to 149 minutes per week or who showed variability in their three measurements.
The researchers also looked at other key characteristics of these 48,000+ patients. What was their age, gender, and race? Did you smoke or have emphysema? Did you have obesity (BMI 30 to 39) or severe obesity (BMI 40 or more), diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, or kidney disease? Was it immunocompromised for some reason? In the six months prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19, had you been admitted to the emergency room or hospital?
This is much of collecting data on the characteristics of people in a study. By including this information in their analysis, the researchers were able to calculate the risk associated with the various outcomes and see more clearly how physical activity itself is related to the COVID-19 outcomes.
What did researchers learn about physical activity and COVID-19?
What the researchers learned in this first study was quite remarkable, although more research is needed to substantiate the results. Even after correcting all of these traits, people who were consistently inactive had a significantly higher risk of hospitalization, intensive care, and death after contracting COVID-19 than those who were active for at least 150 minutes a week. Additionally, those who were active for more than 10 minutes a week had some protection from serious illness or death from COVID-19 – albeit not as much as those who had the full 150 minutes. It’s worth noting that people who were white were more likely to adhere to physical activity guidelines – a discrepancy that should be recognized and addressed.
This study is one more reason to encourage and encourage physical activity for everyone. Companies could offer gyms or fitness memberships, standing desks, and exercise breaks. Government funding for bike paths, sidewalks and pedestrian access would make training easier and safer. But also set your own priorities: we can all commit ourselves to moving more! And the next time you see your medical team, talk for a few minutes about what could possibly move you more. Would an exercise prescription help? Is there coaching that will help you set activity goals and achieve them? Does exercise hurt or is it you? not sure how to start?
Consistent physical activity will keep you safe when you contract COVID-19. Obviously, vaccination offers much greater protection. Possibly both are very protective, although this needs to be investigated. We now know that there are many head-to-toe benefits in moving our bodies every day, even if it’s just a matter of walking. We as a society have to make it easy and safe for everyone to be as active as possible.
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing offers access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of the last review or update for all articles. No content on this website, regardless of the date, should never be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.