People of ‘normal’ weight who walked slower than three miles per hour were almost 2.5 times more likely to develop severe COVID-19 and 3.75 times more likely to die from the virus than ‘normal-weight’ fast walkers in the study, reports Leicestershire Live.
University of Leicester scientists also found ‘normal’ weight slow walkers were found to be more at risk of both severe disease and death than fast walkers with obesity.
The study of 412,596 middle-aged men and women examined how both body mass index and self-reported walking pace related to the risk of contracting severe COVID-19 and mortality.
Tom Yates, lead researcher for the study and a professor at the University of Leicester 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.”
The scientists used data from UK Biobank, which has medical information about hundreds of thousands of UK citizens.
Their conclusions, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found risk was about the same for all slow walkers, whether they were obese or had a ‘normal’ body mass index.
It remains unclear why fast walkers are less at risk but the scientists think it is because walking quickly is linked to having a healthy heart.
Professor Yates added: “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.
“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 researchers warned there were a number of limitations to their study, saying that although self-reported walking pace has been shown to be associated with cardiorespiratory fitness within UK Biobank, it is subject to possible reporting bias.
They said that given this, and the observational design, no definitive causal conclusions could be derived from their results.