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Report: Physical Inactivity Associated with Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19 Outcomes

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severe COVID-19 outcomes

Industry veteran Mike Alpert writes about why exercise is medicine and shares insights from a recent study linking physical inactivity to higher risks for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Exercise is Medicine. In fact, I believe it is the most powerful medicine we have today. If it were a pill, every physician would prescribe it and every pharmacist would dispense it. What makes it even better is that it is available to everyone at no cost. And we also know there is a vast amount of medical research that confirms the positive effect exercise has on so many chronic illnesses, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer. It is also well known that immune function improves with regular physical activity, and those who are regularly active have a lower incidence, intensity of symptoms and mortality from various viral infections. 

So why is our healthcare system so broken? As a country we spend more on healthcare per person than other major industrialized nations and despite this, we are ranked last in a study of the 11 major industrialized countries. And according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States is ranked 37th out of 100 in overall healthcare.

Mike Alpert

The system seems to be focused so much on big pharmaceuticals and treating chronic conditions with costly pills and procedures rather than focusing on activities and nutrition that help build and maintain strong immune systems and healthy, independent living. Why has there been a lack of effort by our state and national governments to educate the public about the benefits of regular exercise and proper nutrition? And why has it taken a pandemic like we have never lived through before to bring it into their focal lens?

We all know of the devastating effect that COVID-19 has had on our industry: in the past 12 months, revenue is down 58%; 17% of health clubs have closed permanently and 44% of people in the industry have lost their jobs. Well now there seems to be proof positive that exercise really is medicine.

One of the largest healthcare providers in the country, Kaiser Permanente, has completed a large study that today was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which looked at almost 50,000 adults in the U.S. who were diagnosed with COVID-19 infection between January and October 2020.

What the researchers found was patients who had COVID-19 and were inactive or sedentary during the previous two years were much more likely to be admitted to the hospital; to require intensive care and to die from the infection than patients who had consistently met the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended guidelines of 150 minutes each week of moderate to intense physical activity. Among patients in the study, 8.6% were hospitalized; 2.4% required intensive care and 1.6% died as a result of the infection. Those who were inactive were also 73% more likely to receive intensive care and 2.5 times more likely to die than those patients who were regularly active.

According to the study, “the risk for all outcomes associated with being consistently inactive exceeded the odds of smoking and virtually all the chronic diseases studied in their analysis, indicating physical inactivity may play a crucial role as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

My good friend Dr. Robert Sallis, the study author, says “this is a wake-up call for the importance of healthy lifestyles and especially physical activity. People who regularly exercise had the best chance of beating COVID-19, while people who were inactive did much worse.” He went on to say: “Exercise is Medicine that everyone should take – especially in the era of COVID-19. Walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week at a moderate pace and that will give you a tremendous protective effect against COVID-19.”

People are now being able to get vaccinated and I believe this will result in a meaningful return of members, including new members, to our health clubs and gyms. People are hungry to get back to a more normal way of life. Make sure your facility operates at the highest degree of cleanliness and safety.

I also urge you to join the health club alliances in your area and get involved in legislative advocacy through our industry to promote the benefits of regular exercise and proper nutrition and the important role your club plays in helping to build and maintain a healthy community.

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Mike Alpert

Mike Alpert is the chief operating officer at Smart Health Clubs. He can be reached at (951) 205-1136 or Mike@Smarthealthclubs.com.

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