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Couch potatoes are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19: study

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Couch potatoes beware! Being sedentary more than doubles the risk of dying from COVID-19, according to new research.

A study on the effect of exercise on 48,440 patients diagnosed from Jan. 1 to Oct. 21, 2020, concluded that inactivity was the third-biggest risk factor for severe illness — worse than heart disease, diabetes or smoking, eurekalert.org reports.

The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that coronavirus patients who were consistently inactive had 1.73 times greater odds of ICU admission than those who were consistently active.

The odds for death were even higher — with consistently inactive patients 2.49 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared with patients who were consistently active.

“This is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity,” said Dr. Robert Sallis, a physician at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center.

“Kaiser Permanente’s motivation is to keep people healthy, and this study truly shows how important that is during this pandemic and beyond. People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating COVID-19, while people who were inactive did much worse,” he added.

People use outdoor public exercise equipment
People use outdoor public exercise equipment to train, as government lockdown restrictions mean gyms, leisure centers and pools remain closed, amid the spread of COVID-19, in Dublin, Ireland, on March 21, 2021.
REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The study, led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, also found that even patients who were inconsistently active had lower odds of becoming severely ill — suggesting that any amount of activity is beneficial.

To reach their conclusions, researchers gathered data on how many days those studied engaged in moderate to strenuous exercise each week and, on average, how many minutes they engage in exercise at that level.

The subjects — 62 percent of whom were female and whose median age was 47 — reflected the diverse racial makeup of the Southern California population.

Of the total, 6.4 percent were consistently active and 14.4 percent were consistently inactive, with the rest falling in the category of inconsistently active.

Among all of the patients, 8.6 percent were hospitalized, 2.4 percent were admitted to the ICU and 1.6 percent died.

“What surprised me the most from this study was the strength of the association between inactivity and poor outcomes from COVID-19,” said co-author Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

“Even after we included variables such as obesity and smoking in the analysis, we still saw inactivity was strongly associated with much higher odds of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death compared with moderate physical activity or any activity at all,” she added.

Sallis offered a simple prescription.

“Walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate pace and that will give you a tremendous protective effect against COVID-19,” he said.

“I continue to believe that exercise is medicine that everyone should take — especially in this era of COVID-19.” 

A healthcare worker prepares to load the body of a man who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), into an ambulance at a COVID-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, April 14, 2021.
The study found that coronavirus patients who were consistently inactive had 1.73 times greater odds of ICU admission than those who were consistently active.
REUTERS/Amit Dave
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