Although doctors have long suggested that exercise can lower the risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes, such as hospitalization and death, it has never been entirely clear how much exercise is required to experience those benefits. If you want to lower your risk of developing severe COVID, will one or two workouts per week be sufficient, or should you be working out every day? Findings from a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine examined the effects of various levels of exercise on COVID outcomes among a sizable patient sample.

The study, which was released on December 14, examined the medical files of over 194,000 adult Kaiser Permanente patients in southern California who were all given COVID-19 diagnoses between January 2020 and May. The patients were asked to evaluate their own level of physical activity prior to infection, and were separated into five subgroups based on their response:

Always inactive: 10 minutes of exercise or less per week

Mostly inactive: between 10 and 60 minutes of exercise per week

Some activity: between 60 and 150 minutes of exercise per week

Consistently active: more than 150 minutes of exercise per week

Always active: 300 minutes of exercise per week

The researchers then examined the data to see how a patient’s level of activity prior to infection affected the outcomes of COVID in each group.

They discovered that the lower the risk of hospitalization or death within 90 days of their COVID diagnosis, the more active the patients were prior to infection. The study found that patients who were consistently inactive had a 391 percent higher risk of dying and a 191 percent higher risk of being hospitalized. Additionally, each step down the activity scale increased the chance of experiencing worse COVID outcomes. Compared to always active patients, patients who were only moderately active were 143 percent more likely to be hospitalized and 192 percent more likely to pass away; similarly, patients who were consistently active were 125 percent and 155 percent more likely to do so. According to the researchers, the results were consistent across all significant demographic subgroups, including age, sex, race, and ethnicity.

The lesson? According to a press release from the study’s principal investigator, Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, director of the Division of Behavioral Research for the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation, “[E]very little bit of physical activity counts.” No matter a person’s race, ethnicity, age, sex, or chronic conditions, the more exercise the better.

Exercise should be emphasized more as one of the most crucial things we can do to protect ourselves from severe COVID, along with getting vaccinated, according to the researchers because the association between increased physical activity and a lower risk of severe COVID outcomes was so strong. It should be noted that because the study was carried out before COVID vaccines were widely accessible, it is uncertain whether the results apply to those who have received the vaccine.

Young stated, “This is a significant opportunity to strengthen policies supporting physical activity as a pandemic-mitigation strategy.” Our study offers fresh data to guide appropriate interventions across demographic groups.

So, you can now add improved COVID outcomes to the long list of health advantages associated with exercise, such as increasing immunity, lowering risk of heart disease, and even enhancing memory. Let it all serve as inspiration for you to complete a few more workouts this week.