Physically inactive people more likely to suffer worse effects from Covid-19 – study

‘Consistently physically inactive’ patients twice as likely to be admitted to hospital

People with poor levels of physical activity are far more likely to suffer worse effects from Covid-19, new research has found.  Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times

People with poor levels of physical activity are far more likely to suffer worse effects from Covid-19, new research has found. Image: Paul Scott/The Irish Times

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People with poor levels of physical activity are far more likely to suffer worse effects from Covid-19, new research has found.

The US-based study, published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found “consistently physically inactive” patients were more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital as those who did 150 or more minutes of physical activity per week.

They were also 73 per cent more likely to require intensive care, and 2.5 times more likely to die of the infection.

“It is notable that being consistently inactive was a stronger risk factor for severe Covid-19 outcomes than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the CDC (The Centers for Disease Control) except for age and a history of organ transplant,” the researchers noted.

Physical inactivity has not been included among several risk factors for severe infection such as older age and certain underlying medical conditions including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Impact

In assessing its impact, the researchers compared Covid-19 outcomes in 48,440 adults diagnosed between January and October, 2020.

Around half had no underlying conditions; nearly one in five (18 per cent) had only one; and almost a third (32 per cent) had two or more.

All patients had previously reported their levels of physical exercise. About 7 per cent were consistently meeting the health guidelines, 15 per cent were “consistently inactive”, and the remainder reporting some activity.

Of all of them, 9 per cent were admitted to hospital, with 3 per cent requiring intensive care, while 2 per cent died.

“Consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk of these outcomes,” the study found.

The research was observational in approach, unable to establish cause, and notably relied on the patients’ own assessment of their activity.

However, the authors still concluded that physical inactivity was the “strongest risk factor across all outcomes, compared with ... smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Trial

Meanwhile, a separate clinical trial whose results have also been published by the British Journal of Sports Science, found that the wearing of facemasks inhibited exercise.

Those who wore them reported increasing shortness of breath and claustrophobia at higher exercise intensities.

Recommendations for wearing masks during exercise vary globally and the physiological impact is poorly understood, the researchers said.

They compared the exercise performance of 31 healthy adults, aged between 18 and 29, while they ran on a treadmill to exhaustion, once wearing a cloth facemask and once not.

Resulting data showed that wearing a mask led to a significant reduction in exercise time and increased shortness of breath.

If found the majority of participants (30) agreed or strongly agreed that it was harder to give maximum effort during the trial while wearing a mask.

The researchers recommended that anyone wearing a mask while exercising should modify the intensity, time and type of activity undertaken.

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