New studies have shown another important benefit of physical activity or regular exercise: People who are physically fit are less likely to develop severe disease due to COVID-19. Research seems to reinforce new findings that link exercise to a lower risk of becoming seriously ill with other viruses, such as the common cold or flu.
The most convincing study, published in May by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at data from about 50,000 California residents infected with COVID-19. The researchers found that those who were most physically active before they contracted the disease were least likely to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19.
These findings appear to be consistent with the experience of primary care physicians, who often see a key difference between patients living sedentary lives and those active in a variety of activities or simply following the minimum U.S. guidelines for regular exercise.
“The more physically active you are, the less risk you have for complications and less risk for hospitalizations,” explains Dr. Patricia Feito-Fernández, Baptist doctor. “His immune system also works better, as does his performance in terms of lung and heart function.
The U.S. government and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity – or a combination of both, preferably throughout the week. Add activities of moderate to high-intensity muscle strength (such as resistance exercises or weights) as instructed at least two days a week. (June 12 is Family Fitness and Health Day.)
Another recent study showed that patients with long-term symptoms of COVID-19, known as “long-distance carriers,” can enjoy an exercise program. The study, published in the journal Chronic Respiratory Disease, involved 30 patients. For six weeks, they attended supervised rehabilitation classes twice a week. The program included aerobic exercises, including walking or using a treadmill, and strength training for the arms and legs. Most patients “showed significant improvements in their motor ability, respiratory symptoms, fatigue, and cognition,” the study’s co-authors said.
Dr. Feito-Fernández saw what a difference exercise can make. Patients who are moderately and intensely active – or those engaged in mild exercise – “have far fewer complications from COVID and fewer problems with long-term carriers in the long run or even hospitalizations.”
“For a patient who practices and is at risk of developing COVID, or who has recovered from COVID, this is definitely a great preventative factor,” adds Dr. “Physically active people who get infected have far fewer complications. That’s what we see in the community. “
Feito-Fernández points out that regular exercise in addition to COVID has many benefits. Regular exercise is “built into our outpatient tips and guidelines,” he says.
“We usually say it’s not just about COVID,” says Dr. Feito-Fernández. “Exercise helps our immune system fight other viruses. In addition, it has benefits in terms of the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems and in preventing the most serious conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. “