Lack of exercise creates greater levels of risk than smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
A large US study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests being physically inactive could more than double the risk of dying from the coronavirus.
The study found patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive during the two years preceding the pandemic were more likely to be admitted to hospital, to require intensive care and more likely to die than patients who had consistently met physical activity guidelines.
As a risk factor for severe complications from COVID-19, physical inactivity was exceeded only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant.
To explore its potential impact on the severity of the infection, researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in California, US, compared outcomes in 48,440 adults with confirmed COVID-19 infection between January and October 2020.
The patients’ average age was 47 and nearly two-thirds were women (62 per cent). Around half had no underlying conditions, which included diabetes, COPD, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and cancer; nearly 1 in 5 (18 per cent) had only one; and almost a third (32 per cent) had two or more.
The study found that consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk of serious outcomes.
After taking account of potentially influential factors – such as age and underlying conditions – patients with COVID-19 who were consistently physically inactive were more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital as patients who clocked up 150+ minutes of physical activity every week.
Impact of inactivity
Those who were inactive were also 73 per cent more likely to require intensive care, and 2.5 times more likely to die of the infection.
Patients who were consistently inactive were 20 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital, 10 per cent more likely to require intensive care, and 32 per cent more likely to die than were patients who were doing some physical activity regularly.