A new study has revealed a clear relationship between physical activity levels and health outcomes of COVID-19 infection. As Savers know, regular exercise has numerous health benefits. We can now add a new item to that list: reduced risk of hospitalization or death due to a COVID-19 infection.
We'll take a look at the details of this study, and learn just how much exercise helped participants to withstand the assault of this dangerous virus.
About The Study
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study this past April on physical activity and severe COVID-19 outcomes. The study included 48,440 adult participants who had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
The participants were categorized into three groups based on how many minutes of moderate to vigorous activity they performed each week: 0-10 minutes, 11-149 minutes, or 150 or more minutes. Their physical activity (PA) levels were based on exercise vital sign measurement questions asked by health care professionals. To take a patient's exercise vital sign a doctor simply asks about their physical activity levels, to see if they're exercising enough to maintain good health.
The researchers then compared each participant's health outcomes to the PA level category they fell into. The outcomes considered were hospitalization, admission to the ICU, and death due to COVID-19. This allowed them to calculate how physical activity levels may affect the risk of experiencing those outcomes.1
A study of 48,440 adults diagnosed with COVID-19 compared each participant's physical activity (PA) level to their health outcomes. This allowed researchers to identify associations between physical activity levels and hospitalization, admission to the ICU, and death.
Exercise Reduced The Severity Of COVID-19 Infections
Participants who got the least exercise were significantly more likely to require hospitalization, to be admitted to the ICU, or to die from COVID-19 than participants in either of the groups that engaged in more than 10 minutes of exercise per week.1
People who were exercising at least the recommended 150 minutes a week were the least likely to experience any of the negative outcomes, regardless of other contributing factors (with the exception of age and organ transplant.)1
Compared to the study participants who did the recommended amount of PA, those who did little to no exercise were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized, 73 percent more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and two and half times as likely to die.1
The inactive group was also more likely to experience those three outcomes than people who did a moderate amount of exercise. Their risk was greater by 20 percent (hospitalization), 10 percent (ICU), and 32 percent (death).1
That demonstrates how the benefits of exercise prove to be scalable. People who exercised less than the recommended amount were not as susceptible as those who exercised a little or nothing at all. However, they were still at greater risk than those who got at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.1
The Remarkable Benefits Of Exercise
Here is the researchers’ conclusion:
“Consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults. We recommend efforts to promote physical activity be prioritised by public health agencies and incorporated into routine medical care.”1
Even though this study didn't observe the mechanism behind the association between exercise and better health outcomes for people infected with COVID-19, the researchers are confident that exercise is what caused the improved outcomes.
Part of that confidence stems from the researchers' methodology. They analyzed the data to account for the influence of other factors that might have been impacting the participants' health outcomes. The results were still the same. Except for age and organ transplant, other factors didn't change the relationship between exercise and improved health outcomes.
The other reason we can be confident that exercise is the source of the benefit is because of the extensive existing research that has shown how exercise boosts our body's immune function.
For example, researchers cite a previous study that recommended exercise as a therapeutic prescription for 26 different chronic diseases ranging from depression to musculoskeletal conditions, including osteoporosis.2
In fact, the benefits of exercise that reduce the severity of a COVID-19 infection are also benefits that help support our bones. One of the effects of PA cited by the study is reduced systemic inflammation.3 That inflammation contributes to lung damage caused by COVID-19. The same systemic inflammation has also been linked to bone loss.4
And, as Savers know, weight-bearing exercise also stimulates new bone growth, making it doubly important for building and maintaining strong and healthy bones.
The study authors recommend PA to reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. The benefits that make exercise effective at reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections also make exercise effective for improving bone health. Additionally, weight-bearing exercise stimulates new bone growth.
What This Means To You
No matter what other precautions you’re taking to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, exercise should be part of your prevention plan. This data demonstrates that regular physical activity is an effective way to equip your body against the worst outcomes of infection.
If you'd like support putting together an exercise plan, try SaveTrainer. SaveTrainer is the Save Institute's online workout video platform that offers workout sessions for all fitness levels led by professional trainers. It contains an ever-growing library of fun and engaging bone strength, joint health, balance, posture, flexibility, meditation, sleep-enhancing, and yoga video workout classes.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, this simple preventative strategy could make a life-or-death difference for millions of people. Make sure you add it to the reasons why you make time to exercise throughout your week and make sure to share this newfound knowledge with others.