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Slow walkers are four times more likely to die from COVID-19

Slow walkers are four times more likely to die from COVID-19, and have more than double the risk of developing a severe infection, according to a new study led by the University of Leicester.

The research was focused on more than 400,000 middle-aged adults in the UK Biobank database. The experts analyzed the potential relationship between the self-reported walking pace of the individuals and their risk of developing severe or fatal COVID-19.

The investigation revealed that slow walkers with a normal body weight are almost 2.5 times more likely to contract severe COVID-19 and 3.75 times more likely to die from their infection compared to fast walkers with a normal weight.

Study lead author Tom Yates is a professor of Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior and Health at the University of Leicester.

“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,” said Professor Yates.

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

The researchers also found that slow walkers with a healthy weight have a higher risk of both severe and fatal COVID-19 than fast walkers with obesity. The risk among slow walkers is consistently high, regardless of weight. 

“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,” said Professor Yates.

“Whilst large routine database studies have reported the association of obesity and fragility with COVID-19 outcomes, routine clinical databases do not currently have data on measures of physical function or fitness.”

“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.”

The study is published in the International Journal of Obesity.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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