Regular physical activity may substantially reduce the risk of COVID-19–related hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and death, according to an observational study of almost 50,000 people. 

Kaiser Permanente Southern California researchers led the retrospective study, which involved linking the self-reported physical activity levels of 48,440 adult patients who had at least three exercise vital sign measurements in the two years preceding the pandemic to their risk of severe coronavirus outcomes. They found that even people who could not realistically exercise 150 minutes or more per week still experienced significant benefits compared with people who said they exercise 10 minutes or less.

Compared with the most active people in the study — those who exercised 150 minutes or more every week — patients with COVID-19 who were “consistently inactive” were 226% more likely to be hospitalized, 173% more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit and 149% more likely to die in the study.

“Age was the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19, however, and it is obviously a factor that cannot be modified,” Robert E. Sallis, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center told McKnight’s Clinical Daily. 

“As in previous studies, our study found the older patients were much less likely to meet the physical activity guidelines,” he said. “While we didn’t specifically examine the differing effects of physical activity on various age groups, our sense from looking at the data was that the lowering of risk in consistently active patients was similar across all age groups.”

Full findings were published last week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.