How exercise helps protect you from COVID-19 outcomes like hospitalization and death.
When it comes to ways to protect yourself from COVID-19, you’ve probably heard it over and over again—get vaccinated and boosted, wear a mask, wash your hands and keep your distance. The one thing you don’t hear too much about is exercising more. But you should.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2021 showed that regular physical activity substantially reduced the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, including hospitalization, ICU admission and death. The study looked at the exercise habits of nearly 50,000 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 during 2020. Patients self-reported their physical activity levels as either consistently inactive (0 to 10 minutes of exercise a week), doing some activity (11 to 149 minutes a week) or consistently meeting recommended exercise guidelines (150 or more minutes a week).
It was found that consistently meeting exercise guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. Inactivity was strongly linked to poorer outcomes. Not being active (exercising 0 to 10 minutes a week) was the third most important risk factor for COVID-19 death after age (being older than 60) or having previous organ transplant. It posed a higher risk than smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Regular physical activity has long been touted for its numerous health benefits, from helping with weight loss and improving heart health to strengthening bones and positively affecting mental health. Now there is another benefit to exercise that should give you a good reason to lace up your sneakers and move—it may protect you from serious COVID-19 illness.
If you don’t already exercise much (or at all), start out by increasing activity in any way you can for as long as you can. Taking a walk at a moderate pace is a preferred activity for many people. You don’t have to join a gym or take an exercise class to reap benefits. Simply walk at a pace that leaves you slightly winded—too out of breath to sing but still able to talk.
To meet recommended exercise guidelines, aim for 150 minutes or more a week, which equates to 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can break up your activity any way you want though. If you don’t have 30 minute blocks of time to exercise, do it in 10- or 15-minute intervals. It still counts. And even if you can’t get in a full 150 minutes of physical activity during the week, every bit helps when it comes to protecting you from severe COVID-19 illness, as well as providing many other health benefits.
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Date Last Reviewed: February 16, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Dietary Review: Andrew P. Overman, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS