Study: Regular Exercise Protected COVID-19 Patients From Hospitalization and Death

Regular exercise habits appear to be the ideal way to get rid of serious complications from COVID-19, according to a new study of more than 48,000 Kaiser Permanente patients in Southern California.

Kaiser members who reported regularly getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to strenuous exercise per week, essentially brisk walking or better, when diagnosed with COVID-19 had significantly lower odds of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and death than those who estimated their weekly efforts at 10 minutes or less.

The results were less dramatic, but still visible, for those who said they exercised between 10 and 149 minutes per week.

The researchers found that the risk of hospitalization for those with low activity levels was more than double that for those who moved for at least 2.5 hours a week. Low levels of activity were also correlated with death rates that were about 2.5 times higher than those of those with high levels of activity.

Consistent physical inactivity was found to be a more severe risk factor than pre-existing heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and high blood pressure among the group of patients studied. Just having had a prior organ transplant or pregnancy at the time of infection was correlated with higher odds of COVID-related hospital admission.

Dr. James Sallis, a professor emeritus at UC San Diego’s Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and a co-author of the paper, said the findings reinforce what research has consistently and growingly shown in many types of disease.

“Physical activity is one of the most powerful health producers out there, and yet it is basically ignored in most health care,” he said.

For years, the empirical evidence has been strengthened in cancer, for example. Cancer patients with seven major types of disease have been shown to do significantly better if they continue to exercise during the course of the disease.

As it happens, Kaiser was perfectly positioned to study physical activity among positive coronaviruses due to an initiative started in 2009 that asks all patients to estimate their exercise levels during routine office visits.

A research team led by Dr. Robert Sallis, a Kaiser sports medicine specialist in Fontana who is unrelated to his colleague at UCSD, analyzed aggregated data from the electronic health records of 48,440 Kaiser patients in South America. California who had COVID-19 diagnoses between January 1 and October 1. .21 of 2020, choosing only those who estimated their activity levels at least three times in the previous two years.

Kaiser Study Chart of Activity Levels in COVID-19 Patients

Because health records reflect data generally recorded before patients tested positive, they indicate pre-existing exercise habits in progress. After all, COVID-19 symptoms generally affect even well-established training routines.

Anne Swisher, a professor of physical therapy at West Virginia University who has extensively studied the health effects of physical activity, said the article’s findings were exciting. He said Kaiser’s initiative to record physical activity as a vital sign in the same way that factors like height, weight and blood pressure are routine parts of every office visit is industry leading.

He warned the public to avoid thinking of those who don’t exercise enough as lazy. In many cases, those who do not move much may have an illness or other condition that makes life more sedentary than they would like.

“People who are very sedentary may have the greatest barriers to physical activity, such as having significant mobility challenges, such as being wheelchair users,” Swisher said.

James Sallis, who has spent much of his career studying the effects of exercise on overall health, said the results should be a wake-up call for the public health community.

He said that while he and his colleagues urged that a call to maintain as much exercise as possible be an important part of the pandemic message along with requests to wash hands and wear masks, that call generally fell on deaf ears. .

It felt like a missed opportunity, Sallis said, because there’s a lot of research showing that compounds critical to immune system function and reducing inflammation are produced by the body’s muscles.

“We felt that our concerns about physical activity were not prioritized during the pandemic, when the message was generally to stay home,” Sallis said. “We hope that the data in this document is considered good evidence that we cannot ignore the power of physical activity during our response to a pandemic.

“A message that physical activity could protect you from ending up in the hospital, in my opinion, could have saved many lives over the past year, but I would also say that it is not too late to start.

Swisher agreed.

It wouldn’t hurt, he said in an email, to remind the public as often as possible that exercise is good medicine at a time when everything is locked down and screen time is on the rise.

“Physical activity is a ‘medicine’ with very few adverse effects,” he said.

The study was first published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on Tuesday.

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