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Exercise can fight COVID
Exercise can fight COVID

A major new study has found that physical activity such as regular bike riding protects against the severity of COVID-19.

Inactive people with COVID are 2.5 times more likely to die of the disease than people who are consistently active.

The consistently inactive were twice as likely to require hospitalisation, and 1.7 times more likely to be admitted to ICU.

These differences are remarkable. None of the medical interventions are anywhere near this effective.

“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 CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant,” the study says.

“In fact, physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor across all outcomes, compared with the commonly cited modifiable risk factors, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“We recommend that public health authorities inform all populations that short of vaccination and following public health safety guidelines such as social distancing and mask use, engaging in regular physical activity may be the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death. “

The study was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study analysed data from more than 48,000 Kaiser Permanente Southern California adult patients, median age 47, who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between January and October 2020.

The patients also had their physical activity levels assessed at least twice between March 2018 and March 2020. (Kaiser is one of the few medical providers that assesses the physical activity of all patients. The Exercise Vital Sign measurement has been used at every outpatient encounter within Kaiser Permanente Southern California since 2009.)

Of those patients, just over 6% were consistently active, about 14% were consistently inactive and the remainder were inconsistently active.

"This is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity," said study author Dr. Robert Sallis.

"People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating COVID-19, while people who were inactive did much worse."

Even patients who were inconsistently active had a lower risk of severe COVID-19 than those who were consistently inactive, suggesting any amount of physical activity can be beneficial.

"What surprised me the most from this study was the strength of the association between inactivity and poor outcomes from COVID-19," said study co-author Deborah Rohm Young.

”Even after we included variables such as obesity and smoking in the analysis, we still saw inactivity was strongly associated with much higher odds of hospitalization, ICU admission and death, compared with moderate physical activity or any activity at all," she added.

"I continue to believe that exercise is medicine that everyone should take, especially in this era of COVID-19," Sallis concluded.

The impact of these findings should resonate will everyone who rides a bike.

This means that the people who regularly exercise—and have caught the virus—not only have a greatly improved chance of survival themselves, they have also saved the community untold millions in medical costs and greatly reduced the pressure on the overburdened hospital system.

This is leadership. Be proud.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.