Slow walkers ‘four times more likely to catch Covid’ claims bombshell study

People who walk slowly are at greater risk or the worst effects of Covid-19, a new study has found.

Not, as you might think because they can’t get away from floating virus particles in the air but because walking speed is a key indicator of overall physical health.

The study by a team of scientists from the National Institute for Health Research Leicester Biomedical Research Centre led by the University of Leicester’s Professor Tom Yates found that slow walkers who were in the normal weight range to be almost two and a half times more likely to develop severe Covid-19, and almost four times more likely to die from the virus than normal-weight fast walkers.

One unexpected detail that emerged from the research was normal weight slow walkers were more at risk for both severe COVID-19 and COVID-19 mortality than fast-walking people who were obese.

The risk of severe illness seems about the same for slow walkers whether or not they were obese.

Professor Yates explained: "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 health care services and communities, identifying individuals at greatest risk and taking preventative measures to protect them is crucial.”

The researchers classified walking speed as slow, which was less than 3mph, steady or average – more like 4mph – or fast, which is anything over 4mph.

The study, which gathered data from 412,596 middle-aged members of medical research group UK Biobank, relied on survey subjects reporting their own walking speed.

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

He continued: "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 full results of the study, Obesity, walking pace and risk of severe COVID-19 and mortality: analysis of UK Biobank’ was published on 26 February 2021 in the International Journal of Obesity and can be seen here.

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