New research suggests that staying fit may provide protection from more serious forms of COVID-19 infection. The Kaiser Permanente study, which was recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that those who were consistently active prior to getting COVID-19 were less likely to be hospitalized or die due to their illness.
Robert Sallis, MD, a family and sports medicine physician with the Southern California Permanente Medical Group, led the study that examined the exercise habits of almost 50,000 Kaiser Permanente members diagnosed with COVID-19. Compared to people who were somewhat active, the least active people were hospitalized about 20% more often and were about 30% more likely to die from COVID-19.
“This is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity,” Dr. Sallis, who also serves as co-director of Kaiser Permanente’s Sports Medicine Fellowship, said in Forbes. “People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating COVID-19, while people who were inactive did much worse.”
Dr. Sallis added that being sedentary was the greatest risk factor for severe illness, outside of being elderly or an organ recipient. While individuals don’t have much control over the latter risks, they can take steps to getting more exercise, he added.
“Exercise is medicine that everyone should take — especially in this era of COVID-19,” Dr. Sallis told The New York Times. “Walk 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week at a moderate pace and that will give you a tremendous protective effect against COVID-19.”
While exercise may help reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 cases, Dr. Sallis emphasized that it’s not a substitute for getting vaccinated.
“I would never suggest that someone who does regular exercise should consider not getting the vaccine,” he said. “But until they can get it, I think regular exercise is the most important thing they can do to lessen their risk.”