Does exercise help protect against severe COVID-19? By: Monique Tello, MD, MPH

Science shows us that being physically active helps us feel better, and prevents or slows many diseases, including heart diseasecancer, and dementia. It even helps us live longer. For these reasons, the US physical activity guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly. Now, a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that routine activity may help protect people who get COVID-19 from becoming seriously ill.

Exercise as a vital sign

Healthcare providers at Kaiser Permanente, a large health care system in California, routinely ask all of their patients two simple questions about their physical activity. Together, they are called the “Exercise Vital Sign.”

  1. On average, how many days per week do you engage in moderate to strenuous exercise (like a brisk walk)? The answer choices are 0 to 7 days.
  2. On average, how many minutes do you engage in exercise at this level? The answer choices are 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 90, 120, 150 or greater minutes.

Research shows these questions measure people’s activity levels pretty well. They also predict some medical problems, such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Many health issues that are well associated with a lack of physical activity — such as overweight, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — are also associated with greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. But few studies directly investigated lack of physical activity as a possible risk factor.

How was this study done?




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