Physical Activity Can Help COVID Outcomes

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April 28, 2021

With the longer days and warmer temperatures, you may have been contemplating starting to exercise or picking back up after a pandemic hibernation … but still quite haven’t been able to take the first step. If this describes you, the findings of a new study might be just the thing to convince you it’s time to get moving!!!!

A research group led by Dr. Robert Sallis followed nearly 50,000 adult patients from March 2018 through October 2020 to better understand the relationship between physical inactivity and risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. Severe outcomes included hospitalization, intensive care admission, and dying from COVID-19.

What they found out sheds light on what the impact is of NOT being physically inactive.

What are the findings?

►  Patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive during the 2 years preceding the pandemic were more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit and die than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.

►  After advanced age and a history of organ transplant, physical inactivity was the next strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

►  Meeting US Physical Activity Guidelines (see below) was associated with substantial benefit, but even those doing some physical activity without meeting those guidelines had lower risks for severe COVID-19 outcomes including death than those who were consistently inactive.

Other risk factors studied included gender, race/ethnicity, BMI (indicator for obesity), smoking, previous hospitalizations within 6 months of covid diagnosis, pregnancy, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, renal disease, cancer, metastatic cancer, hypertension and diabetes. 

To think that being physically inactive surpassed all of these, only 3rd to age and being a recipient of an organ transplant. WOW!

You may now be asking, what do I need to do to reduce my risk of a severe outcome from a COVID-19 diagnosis? Along with being vaccinated, start moving! Any and all movement counts!!

The US Physical Activity Guidelines recommend the following for adults: 

  • Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. 
  • For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week   of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week. 
  • Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week. 
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits. 
  • If you have been sedentary and have risk factors or concerns about heart disease, talk to your doctor before you ramp up activity substantially.

A few other suggestions:

  • A great way to take the first step (excuse the pun!) is to use a pedometer! Get an inexpensive tracker (I like the brand Omron) and begin wearing it every day. Track for the first week to get your baseline and then set a reasonable goal each week that builds on that. This is a great option if you aren’t ready for structured exercise quite yet.
  • Initially you may prefer doing 5-10 minutes of physical activity or movement several times throughout the day rather than all at once. You will still get the same benefit!
  • If you are already exercising… WAY TO GO!!!! Stay with it!
  • Encourage friends and family to move with you. Share with them how important being physically active (not inactive) is when it comes to getting really sick or dying from COVID-19.

The full 118 page US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition can be found by clicking this link:

The study Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48 440 adult patients can be accessed at this link:


  1. Margaret Martinez on April 29, 2021 at 5:01 pm

    Great article, thanks I am up to 3 -4 miles most days now.