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The risk of physical inactivity - PerformancePro

When it comes to protecting our future health, risk mitigation is an important strategy.

It always surprises us that physical inactivity is often overlooked as a factor when assessing risks to health and creating health guidelines. The ongoing pandemic has raised questions regarding how exercise can protect us from infection by boosting immunity. In our recent article Prioritise your Health we explored the relationship between exercise, immunity and COVID-19.

It may sound like common sense that physical activity must help, but to what extent? When there are so many factors to consider, how big a risk is physical inactivity to likelihood of severe COVID-19 outcomes?


Here at PerformancePro we look to the science, specifically sports science. PerformancePro strength and condition coach, Dan Baby, has been researching this area and found a recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study by Sallis et al., 2021, compared hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality for patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive, doing some activity or consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study was initiated in response to the following:

  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified risk factors for severe COVID19, including advanced age, sex (male) and the presence of underlying comorbidities, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. However, there are no data regarding the effect of regular physical activity (PA) on COVID-19 outcomes, even though a lack of PA is a well-documented underlying risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including those associated with severe COVID-19.
  • The US Physical Activity Guidelines call for all adults to engage in at least 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Similar guidelines have been promoted in many countries based on strong evidence that regular PA results in a broad range of health benefits.
  • It is reasonable to expect regular PA may mitigate poor COVID-19 outcomes. It is well known that immune function improves with regular PA, and those who are regularly active have a lower incidence, intensity of symptoms and mortality from various viral infections.
  • Regular PA reduces the risk of systemic inflammation, which is a main contributor to lung damage caused by COVID-19. Additionally, exercise benefits cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity and muscle strength, and improves mental health. These are mechanisms by which regular PA could play an important role in mitigating the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to its beneficial effects on multiple chronic diseases. 

This was a retrospective observational study which looked at the levels of physical activity and health records of COVID-19 sufferers in the 2 years preceding the March 2020 pandemic lockdown.

Full details of the methodology and results can be found in the article. Here is a useful summary of the key findings:

  • Patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive during the 2 years preceding the pandemic were more likely to be hospitalised, admitted to the intensive care unit and die than patients who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.
  • Other than advanced age and a history of organ transplant, physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes.
  • Meeting US Physical Activity Guidelines was associated with substantial benefit, but even those doing some physical activity had lower risks for severe COVID-19 outcomes including death than those who were consistently inactive. How might it impact on clinical practice in the future?
  • The potential for habitual physical activity to lower COVID-19 illness severity should be promoted by the medical community and public health agencies.
  • Pandemic control recommendations should include regular physical activity across all population groups.

Of course, we know physical inactivity is a risk to our health, but this study effectively emphasises just how big a risk specifically when it comes to COVID-19.


At PerformancePro, our commitment to creating a safe, controlled environment for our clients and trainers has never been greater.  We want to play a key role in helping you prioritise your health and fitness so you can,

  1. Ensure regular appropriate exercise to help regulate and improve your immune system
  2. Stay active to help maintain your mental health and wellbeing
  3. Keep on track with healthy eating and maintaining your optimum weight
  4. Stay focused, motivated and avoid injury with a qualified coach and tailored fitness programme


PerformancePro offers a full range of on and offline personal training, nutrition and sports performance coaching. Whatever your starting point, PerformancePro is a safe and welcoming place and we’re here for you. 

Take your next step and book your free no-strings consultation with PerformancePro today >>

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