Does Exercise Protect You From COVID-19?

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Woman stretching before exercise
Dean Drobot /

A little exercise can go a long way toward protecting people from the worst effects of COVID-19, a recent study finds.

A consistent regimen of physical activity provides “strong protection” from hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and death associated with COVID-19, according to a Kaiser Permanente study of nearly 50,000 people diagnosed with the disease caused by the coronavirus.

And even if you just exercise occasionally, you still are likely to fare better than people who are never active.

In an announcement, Dr. Robert E. Sallis, a family and sports medicine physician at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in Fontana, California, called the study “a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity.”

The study found a strong link between inactivity and poor outcomes after contracting COVID-19.

Compared with their consistently active peers, inactive patients had:

  • 2.26 times greater odds of hospitalization
  • 1.73 times greater odds of ICU admission
  • 2.49 times greater odds of dying

In fact, being consistently inactive is the third-greatest risk factor for death from COVID-19, behind being over the age of 60 and having a history of organ transplant.

In an announcement, study co-author Deborah Rohm Young of the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation and a professor in health system science at the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, says:

“What surprised me the most from this study was the strength of the association between inactivity and poor outcomes from COVID-19. 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.”

So, how much activity do you need? Sallis recommends walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate pace, which is characterized by being too winded to sing, but still able to talk.

Such an activity regimen will give you “a tremendous protective effect against COVID-19,” Sallis says.

For more on avoiding the worst of the disease caused by the coronavirus, check out:

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