Slow walkers up to four times more likely to die with coronavirus, study suggests

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Watch: Slow walkers more likely to die with COVID-19, according to study

Walking slowly may raise a person's risk of becoming seriously ill with the coronavirus, research suggests.

Obesity and frailty have been linked with serious complications since the outbreak emerged.

To better understand their risk, scientists from the University of Leicester analysed the body mass index (BMI) and self-reported walking speed of more than 400,000 middle-aged adults.

Results reveal those of a healthy weight who claimed to have a dawdling pace were more than twice as likely to develop COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, than their brisker counterparts.

They also faced almost four times the odds of dying with the infection.

Read more: Up to 89% hospitalised with coronavirus endure long COVID two months later

Although it is unclear why this occurs, walking speed indicates a person's fitness, frailty and heart health.

The research is still in its infancy, however, a patient's pace could indicate their COVID outcome as the pandemic continues to unfold, according to the scientists.

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe.
Walking pace has been linked with a coronavirus patient's death risk. (Stock, Getty Images)

"We know already obesity and frailty are key risk factors for COVID-19 outcomes," said lead author Professor Tom Yates.

"This is the first study to show slow walkers have a much higher risk of contracting severe COVID-19 outcomes, irrespective of their weight.

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"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."

Ventilator monitor ,given oxygen by intubation tube to patient, setting in ICU/Emergency room
The coronavirus is usually mild, but can trigger a life-threatening disease called COVID-19. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

The scientists analysed participants – average age 68 – of the UK Biobank study, with data on weight and self-reported walking speed being linked to coronavirus-related hospital admissions and deaths.

The overall results reveal those with a "steady" or "average" walking pace were 13% more likely to become seriously ill with the coronavirus than their "brisk" counterparts.

This rose to an 88% higher risk among the "slow" walkers.

When it came to coronavirus deaths, slow and steady walkers faced 83% and 44% elevated odds, respectively.

"Slow walkers had the highest risk regardless of obesity status," the scientists wrote in the International Journal of Obesity.

When looking at the participants' weight, the slow walkers with a normal BMI were 2.4 and 3.75 times more likely to become seriously ill or die with the coronavirus, respectively, compared to their brisk counterparts.

Walking pace is a "simple easy to collect measure" of a person's overall fitness, frailty level, "reserve" and "resilience", according to the scientists.

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"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 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 scientists stressed coronavirus "testing in the UK has not been universal". They therefore only analysed people who became seriously ill or died with the infection.

Self-reported walking speed is also "subject to possible reporting bias".

"Given this and the observational design, no definitive causal conclusions can be derived from our results; nevertheless, our findings – showing self-reported slow walkers are at high risk across BMI categories – have potential prognostic relevance," wrote the scientists.

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