Physical activity and Covid-19


Dr Veena Aggarwal, Consultant Womens’ Health, CMD and Editor-in-Chief, IJCP Group & Medtalks Trustee, Dr KK’s Heart Care Foundation of India    09 August 2022

Performing high levels of physical activity even during the pandemic protected patients with Covid-19 from severe disease and reduced risk of hospitalization, including ICU admission and mortality, according to a study reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.1

In a retrospective study performed in South Africa, researchers collated data of directly measured physical activity from 65,361 adults who had had laboratory confirmed Covid-19 from mid-March 2020 through to June 2021. Their aim was to discover if physical activity had an impact on Covid-related outcomes. Based on the intensity of physical activity, the participants were categorized as low (<60 min per week), moderate (60-149 min per week) and high activity (≥150 min per week).

After adjusting for comorbid conditions and demographic factors, results showed that compared to those in the low physical activity group, fewer patients in the high activity group required hospitalization during their Covid illness with a risk ratio of 0.66. Intensive care unit (ICU) admission and ventilation rates were also lower in the high physical activity group, so was the mortality with RR of 0.59, 0.55 and 0.58, respectively.

The hospitalization rates (RR 0.87), ICU admission rates (RR 0.80), ventilation (RR 0.73) and mortality (RR 0.79) rates were likewise lower in patients engaged in moderate physical activity.

The health benefits of physical activity are well-known and irrefutable. It is a modifiable risk factor for cardiometabolic diseases and has also been shown to boost immunity. This study has demonstrated that Covid-19 patients who had been engaged in high levels of physical activity (>150 minutes per week) before acquiring the infection, clearly had more favorable outcomes with reduced risk of hospitalisation, ICU admission, need for ventilation and mortality. Even moderate level of physical activity was protective. The WHO recommends that “adults aged 18–64 years should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week.”2 Regular physical activity must be a part of daily life. It is equally important to be active during the pandemic and this message should percolate down to the last mile.


  1. Lizelle Steenkamp, et al. Small steps, strong shield: directly measured, moderate physical activity in 65 361 adults is associated with significant protective effects from severe COVID-19 outcomes. Br J Sports Med. 2022 May;56(10):568-576. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105159.
  2. Physical activity. WHO Fact Sheet. 26 November 2020

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