Lack of exercise linked to higher risk of death in Covid-19 patients

PARIS A lack of exercise is linked to more severe symptoms and higher risk of death among Covid-19 patients, according to a study of nearly 50,000 infected people.

People physically inactive for at least two years before the pandemic were more likely to be hospitalised, to require intensive care, and to die, researchers reported on Tuesday in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

As a risk factor for serious Covid-19, physical inactivity was surpassed only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant, the study found. Compared to other risk factors such as smoking, obesity or hypertension, "physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor across all outcomes", the authors concluded.

To see whether a lack of exercise increases the odds of severe infection, hospitalisation, admission into an intensive care unit (ICU), and death, the researchers compared these outcomes in 48,440 infected US adults between January and October last year.

The average age of patients was 47, and three out of five were women. On average, their body mass index was 31, just above the threshold for obesity.

Around half had no underlying illnesses, such as diabetes, chronic lung conditions, heart or kidney disease, or cancer. Nearly 20 per cent had one, and more than 30 per cent had two or more.

All had reported their level of regular physical activity at least three times between March 2018 and March 2020 at outpatient clinics.

Some 15 per cent described themselves as inactive (0-10 minutes of physical activity a week), nearly 80 per cent reported "some activity" (11-149 minutes/week), and 7 per cent were consistently active in keeping with national health guidelines (150+ minutes/week).

After allowing for differences from race, age and underlying medical conditions, sedentary patients were more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital as those who were most active.

They were also 73 per cent more likely to require intensive care, and 21/2 times more likely to die.

Compared to those doing occasional physical activity, couch potatoes were 20 per cent more likely to be admitted, 10 per cent more likely to require intensive care, and 32 per cent more likely to die.

While the link is statistically strong, the study - which is observational, as opposed to a clinical trial - cannot be construed as direct evidence that lack of exercise directly caused the difference in outcomes. - AFP