Being active could reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms

exercising covid symptoms
Photo via Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Obesity was one of the earliest established risk factors for severe cases of COVID-19. It follows that being active and exercising can greatly reduce the risk of severe COVID symptoms, a theory that was recently backed up by a scientific study.

A new study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that being physically inactive, which can contribute to obesity, is associated with more severe COVID-19 outcomes

The study evaluated the self-reported levels of activity of 50,000 Californians, ranging from “consistently inactive” at 0-10 minutes of physical activity per week, “some activity” at 11-149 minutes per week, and “consistently meeting guidelines” at 150 or more minutes per week. These levels of activity were then tied to each patient’s risk of hospitalization, Intensive Care Unit admission, and death after receiving a COVID-19 diagnosis. 

All patients included in the study received COVID-19 treatment at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Results from the study revealed that, across the board, those who consistently avoid exercising face the greatest danger of severe COVID symptoms. A low level of physical activity is associated with reduced immune function, increased systemic inflammation, and negative effects on cardiovascular health and lung capacity. 

The study also noted the nearly absent education regarding the importance of physical activity and its associated health benefits, particularly as some gyms, parks, and other fitness venues remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As noted by the New York Times, the study was conducted well before vaccines became available and in no way suggests that increasing your physical activity is a viable substitute for getting vaccinated. Dr. Robert Sallis, lead of the study and a family and sports medicine doctor at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center, told the Times he would never recommend forgoing the shot in favor of exercise. 

“I would never suggest that someone who does regular exercise should consider not getting the vaccine,” Sallis said. “But until they can get it, I think regular exercise is the most important thing they can do to lessen their risk. And doing regular exercise will likely be protective against any new variants, or the next new virus out there.”

Sources: New York Times, Today, British Journal of Sports Medicine

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