Walking Away from the Pandemic – Is Physical Activity the Longterm Solution?
It has been over 2 years since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and we are learning that this disease is here stay for the foreseeable future.
Since the outbreak first started in 2020, scientists and researchers across the globe have been feverishly gathering data on what factors put you at high risk for hospitalizations, ICU stays and death. This includes sports medicine professionals, exercise physiologists and researchers.
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the annual meeting for the American College of Sports Medicine and I listened to a great lecture on how physical activity has factored into Covid-19 outcomes.
Here’s what we’ve known for a while – meeting physical activity guidelines is associated with lowering the risk for severe chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, COPD, obesity, cancer, etc. By “meeting guidelines” we are referring to the US Physical Activity (PA) Guidelines that call for all adults to engage in at least 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
But how does consistently exercising affect Covid outcomes? Well, we know regular physical activity also improves immune function and reduces the risk of systemic inflammation, which is a main contributor to lung damage caused by Covid. Additionally, exercise improves cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity, muscle strength and improves mental health. All areas that Covid is known to wreak havoc on.
Sports medicine researchers had hypothesized early in the pandemic that individuals who regularly meet the PA guidelines had better outcomes when it came to the disease. Here is just some of the data that we have learned over the past two years.
A Meta-analysis of over 50 studies showed that for individuals meeting the above-mentioned PA guidelines, their risk of contracting Covid through community spread decreased by 31%, and they were 37% less likely to die from Covid. They also showed that for those that were vaccinated, regular exercisers resulted in higher antibody concentrations versus those who did not.
Another study of almost 50,000 adults who had COVID in 2021 found that sedentary Covid patients were twice as likely to be hospitalized and be admitted to ICU, and 2.5 times more likely to die than patients who were meeting PA guidelines.
In fact, other than age and a history of organ transplant, being consistently inactive resulted in the highest odds for hospitalizations. These odds were higher than if you had Diabetes, Hypertension, elevated BMI, Kidney disease, Cancer or were a smoker. For the majority, exercising 150min per week at a moderate to vigorous intensity resulted in the chance of ending up in the hospital for Covid around 3% and risk for death at less than 1%.
Some of you might be reading this thinking that you would like to be active, but you don’t trust the cleanliness at the gym. Another study was performed looking at 2,877 gyms in the US with just over 49 million visits. They found that the risk of getting Covid in the gym was 1 in 42,731 (0.0023%). The risk was probably always much higher at Costco and Safeway…let’s be real.
So why aren’t we hearing about this all over the news? Why aren’t people shouting from the rooftops that becoming physically active is one of the most important things that you can do to protect yourself against Covid? In February of 2022 the CDC quietly added these findings on their website without any big announcements or fanfare. If any of the possible Covid-19 treatment medications had HALF of the effect that meeting PA guidelines does on Covid outcomes, it would be breaking news across the globe.
I don’t have the answer for that. The best I can do is to offer the science and share this message to as many people as I can.
So from my rooftop to yours, go get active! It could quite possibly save your life.