As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings of a study by Sallis et al (2021) points to the associated link between physical inactivity and higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes.
The study published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine comprised a sample of 48,440 adult patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 between January 1 2020 and October 21 2020. (https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2021/04/07/bjsports-2021-104080)
The study’s main findings (verbatim) are:
- Patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive during the two 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.
In terms of usage of the findings, the authors suggest (verbatim):
- The potential for habitual physical activity to lower COVID-19 illness should be promoted by the medical community and public health agencies
-Pandemic control recommendations should include regular physical activity across all population’s groups.
At the moment the population can participate in outdoor sports- running, walking, cycling. However, with the State of Emergency (SoE) taking effect from midnight May 16, clarification on whether outdoor sport activities will be allowed once masking and social distancing is practiced is required.
It will be instructive and meaningful if the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and his medical team can provide insights into the study by Sallis et al (2021) as to whether physical activity offer potential benefits in minimising the severity of the effects of COVID-19 while taking into consideration the existence or non-existence of comorbidities- the presence of more than one disease or condition in the same person at the same time (Centre for Disease Control), (CDC).
The findings of Sallis et al (2021) reinforces the World Health Organisation (WHO) global action plan to promote physical activity to reduce physical inactivity by 2030. The WHO believes that investment in policies and programmes to promote overall physical activity among the population by government, the private sector, the health sector along with civil society can go a long way toward complementing and achieving many of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDS).
These SDGs include: SDG2 - ending all forms of malnutrition; SDG3 - good health and well-being; SDG4 - quality education; SDG5 - gender equality; and SDG8 - decent work and economic growth.
According to the WHO, 23% of adults and 81% of adolescents (aged 11-17), fall short of the WHO global standard for physical activity. It is noted that as society has changed due to increase use of technology, urbanization and patterns of transportation, levels of physical inactivity is as high as 70% in some countries.
The WHO states that improving physical activity can prevent and treat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity while at the same time impacting positively on the mental and the social well-being of the population.
The WHO action plan consists of four (4) strategic objectives and 20 policy actions: 1 - Creating an active society (attitude and social norms); 2 - Creating active environments (spaces and safety); 3 - Creating active lives (opportunities and programmes); and 4 - Creating active systems (research, governance and policy enablers)
The action plan 2018-2030 complements the overall findings of the IDB report on sport and physical activity for the Latin America and the Caribbean. The burning question is whether the findings and recommendations of these reports would receive serious action beyond verbal acknowledge.
If the findings of Sallis et al (2021) is reinforced by the CMO and his medical team the importance of engaging in physical activity can then form an integral part of the public health
guidelines in conjunction with the national vaccination programme. At this stage, any desirable practical act that can contribute to minimising transmission of the virus, hospitalisation and death must be factored into the overall plan of responding and living with COVID-19.
Furthermore, by promoting physical activity in a strategic manner the country will be keeping in line with the WHO goal of reducing physical inactivity by 2030 as well as complementing several related SDGs.