'Consistently inactive' people at greater risk of dying from Covid, study finds

14 April 2021, 07:20 | Updated: 14 April 2021, 11:51

As a risk factor for severe disease, physical inactivity was surpassed only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant
As a risk factor for severe disease, physical inactivity was surpassed only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

People who are "consistently inactive" are at a greater risk of dying from Covid-19, a new study has found.

Those who were inactive in the two years before the coronavirus pandemic were also more likely to be admitted to hospital and require intensive care treatment compared to people who exercise, researchers found.

The authors said that as a risk factor for severe disease, physical inactivity was surpassed only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant.

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The new study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined data on almost 50,000 adults who had a Covid-19 diagnosis between January and late October last year.

The team of researchers from the US compared this information to physical activity data for the preceding two years.

People who did less than 10 minutes exercise a week were classed as "consistently inactive".

The academics compared the information from these people to those who met exercise guidelines of at least 150 minutes a week of activity and people who had "some activity" of 11 to 149 minutes.

Some 7% were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines; 15% were consistently inactive, with the remainder reporting some activity.

Being consistently inactive increased the odds of hospital admission 2.26-fold compared with those consistently meeting physical activity guidelines, the authors found.

Those who were doing some activity had 1.89 times greater odds of hospital admission.

Patients who were consistently inactive had 1.73 times greater odds of being admitted to intensive care.

And the odds of death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were inactive.

Patients who were doing some activity had 1.88 times greater odds of death than those who met the guidelines.

"We found that consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced odds for severe Covid-19 among infected adults," the authors wrote.

"Even activity levels that did not meet the PA guidelines were significantly associated with reduced odds of hospitalisation and death.

"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... except for age and a history of organ transplant."

Each week, working aged adults in the UK are recommended to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling; or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity such as running.

Commenting on the study, Huw Edwards, chief executive of ukactive, said: "This is a wake-up call for our nation's physical activity levels.

"We know physical inactivity is one the greatest causes of death and disease globally and the UK's activity levels are not where they should be, weakening us against Covid-19.

"There is an opportunity for the Government to prioritise physical activity through both greater investment and taxation and regulatory reform."