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Physical Inactivity and COVID-19 Outcomes

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified 3 main risk factors for obtaining a severe case of COVID-19. These risk factors include (1) advanced age, (2) sex – male and (3) the presence of underlying comorbidities, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. As such, a study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC), which is a healthcare system that serves approximately 4.7 million residents across Southern California throughout 15 medical centres. This study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and the mortality rate for patients with COVID-19, who were either consistently inactive, doing some activity, or consistently meeting physical activity guidelines were all up for comparison. This study sampled 48,440 adults aged 18 and older. All these patients had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at some point between January 1st, 2020 and October 21st, 2020.

The US Physical Activity Guidelines explains that all adults should participate in at least 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. This amount can be accrued in small individual sessions, making these guidelines within reach for almost anyone, especially that busy office worker. It is reasonable to expect that regular physical activity may reduce poor COVID-19 outcomes. It is well known that immune function improves with regular physical activity, and that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of systemic inflammation, which is a main contributor to lung damage caused by COVID-19. Not to mention, exercise also benefits your cardiovascular health, increases your lung capacity and muscle strength, and improves your mental health.

The results of this study showed that consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced odd for a severe case of COVID-19. The risk for severe COVID-19 was approximately doubled in physically inactive adults compared to those exercising 150+ min/week. Those who were doing some activity had a 1.89 greater chance of hospitalization than those who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines. Patients who were doing some activity had a 1.58 greater chance for ICU admission than those who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines. The odds of death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were consistently inactive compared with patients who were consistently meeting the guidelines. Patients who were doing some activity had a 1.88 times greater chance of death than those who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.

Demographic and lifestyle risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19 include older age, being a male, obesity (in all age groups), cigarette smoking, and underlying medical conditions (many of which are related to obesity). Regular physical activity improves immunosurveillance against pathogens and reduces morbidity and mortality from viral and bacterial infections and acute respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia, and the common cold. Other than advanced age and a history of organ transplant, physical inactivity is the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Based on the results of this study, the authors recommend that “public health authorities inform all populations that short of vaccination and following public health safety guidelines such as social distancing and mask use, 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.” Because regular physical activity can lower the severity of COVID-19, it should be promoted by the medical community and public health authorities across Ontario. Pandemic control recommendations should include regular physical activity. Promoting proper hand hygiene, physical distancing, and use of PPE is not enough.

If regular physical activity is shown to be a protective behaviour for COVID-19, the team here at Ultimate Health Clinic believe that efforts should be made to enable and encourage regular physical activity. If you need help to get your body feeling comfortable and ready to engage in regular physical activity, one of our professional, knowledgeable therapists are here to help you. Give us a call today at (905) 251 – 0162 or visit our website to book your appointment.

Sallis R, Young DR, Tartof SY, Sallis JF, Sall J, Li Q, Smith GN, Cohen DA. Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48 440 adult patients. Br J Sports Med. 2021 Apr 13:bjsports-2021-104080. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-104080. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33849909; PMCID: PMC8050880.

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