People who are "consistently inactive" are at greater risk of dying from Covid-19, new research suggests.
Academics from the United States found that people who were inactive in the two years before the coronavirus pandemic were more likely to be admitted to hospital, require intensive care treatment and more likely to pass away compared to people who meet recommended activity guidelines.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, concluded that, as a risk factor for severe disease, physical inactivity was surpassed only by advanced age and a history of organ transplant.
Researchers examined data on almost 50,000 adults who had a Covid-19 diagnosis between January and late October last year.
They used this information and compared it to physical activity data for the preceding two years.
The categories considered were:
7% of participants were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines; 15% were consistently inactive; and the remainder reported "some activity".
Each week, working-aged adults in the UK are recommended to accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking or cycling; or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity such as running.
Being consistently inactive increased the odds of hospital admission 2.26-fold compared with consistently meeting physical activity guidelines, the authors found.
Those who were doing some activity had 1.89 times greater odds of hospital admission compared to those who met the guidelines.
Patients who were consistently inactive had 1.73 times greater odds of being admitted to an intensive care unit compared to those who met the guidance.
And the odds of death were 2.49 times greater for patients who were inactive compared with patients who were consistently meeting exercise guidelines.
Patients who were doing some activity had 1.88 times greater odds of death than those who met the guidelines.
“We found that consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced odds for severe Covid-19 among infected adults,” the authors wrote.
“Specifically, when compared with those who reported being consistently inactive, those who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines had lower odds of being hospitalised, requiring ICU admission and dying from Covid-19.
“Even activity levels that did not meet the [NHS] guidelines were significantly associated with reduced odds of hospitalisation and death.
“It is notable that being consistently inactive was a stronger risk factor for severe Covid-19 outcomes than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors… except for age and a history of organ transplant.”
Chief executive of ukactive, Huw Edwards, said: “This is a wake-up call for our nation’s physical activity levels.
“We know physical inactivity is one the greatest causes of death and disease globally and the UK’s activity levels are not where they should be, weakening us against Covid-19.
“There is an opportunity for the Government to prioritise physical activity through both greater investment and taxation and regulatory reform, and begin to improve our national wellbeing following this crisis.”