Research shows physical activity helps avoid serious COVID complications

Headshot of Robert Sallis, MD
Robert Sallis, MD

Yet another study, this time looking at the fitness activity of Kaiser Permanente members in Southern California, adds to mounting evidence that regular exercise can help prevent serious complications when infected with COVID-19. The results of the study were reported in The Washington Post.

“It turns out exercise is even more powerful than we thought” at protecting people from severe COVID symptoms, Robert Sallis, MD, told the Post. Dr. Sallis, a family and sports medicine physician with Southern California Permanente Medical Group, is the senior author of the study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Related story: “Robert Sallis, MD, discusses new study results on how exercise protects against severe COVID-19 outcomes”

Dr. Sallis and his colleagues reviewed the anonymized electronic health records of more than 194,000 Kaiser Permanente members in Southern California who were diagnosed with COVID between January 1, 2020, and May 31, 2021. Because care team members include exercise as one of the patient vital signs, the electronic health records showed how many days per week they exercised, and for how many minutes. The researchers looked at the patient exercise levels and cross-checked it against relevant health and hospitalization data. They found that those who reported regular physical activity were less likely to be hospitalized or die after developing COVID.

Dr. Sallis, co-director of Kaiser Permanente’s sports medicine fellowship, conducted an earlier study published last year showing that people who didn’t exercise were at higher risk of severe outcomes when infected with COVID-19. The new study revealed that even moderate exercise — as little as 10 minutes a week — could help reduce the risk of severe COVID.

“It is such a simple, inexpensive way to protect yourself,” Dr. Sallis said about physical activity. “The data are just so clear and strong. To mitigate your risk of severe COVID outcomes, get vaccinated and go for a walk.”

You can read the full story in The Washington Post.

See also additional coverage in NPR.

Medical excellence: “Read more stories about Permanente research”