Physical activity reduces risk of severe COVID-19 infection

It is no secret that exercise is good for us: We have all heard or read somewhere that regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing severe diseases like metabolism (affects biochemical processes within your body’s cells) or cardiovascular (heart and vessels) diseases. For about a year now, however, gyms and sports clubs have been closed and with ongoing curfews even the evening walk may be difficult in some places. In short, the pandemic is not making it any easier to stay fit. Yet, as a large-scale study from the United States suggests, exercise is as important as ever. For the study which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine almost 50,000 people infected with COVID-19 were asked about their daily activity levels (looking back over the past two years before infection with SARS-CoV-2). 14% of respondents were physically inactive (upto 10 minutes of exercise per week), 80% reported moderate activity (11-149 minutes of exercise per week) and 6% moved steadily over 150 minutes per week.

The statistical analysis of the survey showed that inactive people with a COVID-19 infection had to be hospitalised significantly more often during their treatment than patients that are physically active. Inactive people experienced more severe courses of the disease and had a higher risk of having to be treated in an intensive care unit or even dying from COVID-19. The risk of death for those COVID-19 patients who exercised between 11 and 149 minutes per week (less than 2 ½ hours per week) was 32% lower than among those who were completely inactive. In conclusion, the authors of the study explicitly point out that any amount of exercise can already have a benefit.

They also investigated the extent to which other risk factors such as pre-existing cardiovascular, lung, kidney and cancer diseases or smoking influence the course of disease after COVID-19 infection. Based on the data they collected, the authors concluded that among all these variables, physical inactivity seems to have the greatest influence and thus poses the greatest risk for a severe course of corona infection. This is true for people without as well as for people with underlying chronic diseases. Of course, sport and exercise do not protect us from infection – spacing, hand washing and breathing masks, for example, remain essential for this – but they do strengthen our immune systems and our bodies. Perhaps we will keep this in mind the next time we are faced with the question of whether we really need the car to go to the supermarket (especially now that spring is finally on its way) or whether a walk around the block during the lunch break would not be quite refreshing.