Henry Ford study finds better aerobic fitness can reduce severe effects of COVID-19

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Posted at 12:08 PM, Jan 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-06 12:17:43-05

(WXYZ) — A new study from Henry Ford Health System found that people who are in better shape are less likely to have severe cases of COVID-19.

The study was published in the January issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings and is one of the first studies to report on an association between fitness and COVID-19 hospitalization risk.

It looked at 18,000 patients who underwent an exercise stress test on a treadmill between January 2016 and February 29, 2020. Of those patients, 1,181 were tested for COVID-19 between February and May 31, 2020, and 246 tested positive for the virus, and of those 246, 89 were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

“This is one more reason to take that walk or get on the exercise bike,” Dr. Clinton Brawner, the lead researcher and clinical exercise physiologist, said in a release. “It adds to the current understanding that exercise and good fitness levels are related to a lower risk of upper respiratory tract infections like COVID-19 and suggests that people may generally tolerate this infection better if they are more fit.”

According to the study, those who were hospitalized had a lower fitness than those who were not hospitalized.

The study found that aerobic type exercise like walking and jogging will increase cardiopulmonary fitness and improve immune fiction, which plays a role in reducing negative effects from respiratory infections like COVID-19.

Researchers also looked at the difference in aerobic fitness by measuring levels using "metabolic equivalents of task," known as METs, which is the standard measure of aerboic fitness. Walking at 3 mph equals about 3.5 METs.

Each 1 MET higher peak fitness was associated with a 13% lower risk of hospitalization from COVID-19.

The researchers then looked at the difference in aerobic fitness between those COVID-positive patients who were eventually hospitalized and those who were not. They measured fitness levels using “metabolic

“The take-home message from our study is higher fitness is related to a lower risk of hospitalization from COVID-19,” said study co-author Dr. Jonathan Ehrman. “Our data suggests that striving to achieve a peak fitness level of at least 7.5 METS –equivalent to slow jogging—might be a good goal for our patients and general population to achieve a lower risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19.”