Slow walkers have a much higher chance of dying from Covid-19, according to new research

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  • Obesity is one of the key risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease
  • A recent study considered how physical fitness, specifically walking pace, in addition to weight, affected the risk for Covid-19
  • Researchers found that people who walk slowly generally have an increased risk for severe infection

It is well known that obesity is one of the underlying risk factors for severe Covid-19 disease, but a new study shows that in addition to obesity, physical fitness (which includes walking) may also be an important risk marker.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that people who are slow walkers are almost four times more likely to die from Covid-19 infection.

Using BMI and walking pace to assess Covid-19 risk

A team of researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, led by Professor Tom Yates at the University of Leicester, conducted the study by examining 412 596 UK Biobank participants. They analysed participants’ relationship between BMI and self-reported walking pace with their risk of contracting severe Covid-19 and dying from the disease.

The team found that normal-weight individuals who are slow walkers are almost two times more likely to contract severe disease and 3.75 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than normal-weight brisk walkers.

Professor Yates said: “We know already that obesity and frailty are key risk factors for Covid-19 outcomes. This is the first study to show that slow walkers have a much higher risk of contracting severe Covid-19 outcomes, irrespective of their weight.

“With the pandemic continuing to put unprecedented strain on healthcare services and communities, identifying individuals at greatest risk and taking preventative measures to protect them is crucial.”

Pick up the pace

Another striking finding was that slow-walking normal-weight individuals had worse outcomes for severe Covid-19 and mortality compared to fast-walking obese individuals. The risk was, however, equally high for slow walkers of any weight group. 

“Fast walkers have been shown to generally have good cardiovascular and heart health, making them more resilient to external stressors, including viral infection, but this hypothesis has not yet been established for infectious disease,” Professor Yates explained.

“It is my view that ongoing public health and research surveillance studies should consider incorporating simple measures of physical fitness such as self-reported walking pace in addition to BMI, as potential risk predictors of Covid-19 outcomes that could ultimately enable better prevention methods that save lives.”  

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