"Exercise is the most important medicine for COVID-19," according to a recent review published in Current Sports Medicine Reports.
Clinical EvidenceAccording to the review in Current Sports Medicine Reports, by consistently meeting exercise guidelines, people can reduce hospitalization for COVID-19 by up to 42 percent, ICU admission by up to 38 percent, and death by up to 83 percent across major demographic subgroups and those with and without chronic conditions.
The Current Sports Medicine Reports study found that regular physical activity with at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly exercise, or 75 minutes of high-intensity weekly exercise, gained the most significant benefit, with an 11 to 22 percent lower risk of contracting the infection.
Effect of Exercise on Organ SystemsIt’s important first to understand the effect of exercise at the cellular level, starting with exerkines and their effect on all body systems. Exerkines are signaling molecules released from skeletal muscle, brown adipose tissue, white adipose tissue, neurons, the heart, and the liver in response to exercise. They come in many forms, such as hormones, proteins, metabolites, and nucleic acids. These exerkines play a potential role in improving cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and neurological health.
Cardiovascular SystemCOVID-19 causes several paths of dysfunction in the cardiovascular system, including increased incidence of blood clots and high blood pressure. Additionally, COVID-19 causes inflammation in coronary arteries, which can speed up plaque formation and cause blockages in the heart. In long COVID, inflammation leads to increased problems with blood vessels that result in deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, and bleeding events.
Exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect, which may help alleviate systemic heart tissue inflammation from COVID-19.
“We know that COVID is a disease that affects the circulatory system, and people who exercise have healthier circulatory systems, so they are better prepared to weather a COVID storm,” Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist and associate professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California–Irvine, told The Epoch Times.
Respiratory SystemThe virus that causes COVID-19 enters the body through the respiratory tract. Once infected, the virus replicates and spreads throughout the upper and lower respiratory tract.
- It increases the amount and function of immune cells, including T lymphocytes, neutrophils, macrophages, and monocytes.
- It increases immunoglobulin IgA, which, alongside immune cells, can fight lung infections.
- It regulates inflammatory proteins with a short-term increase to fight lung infections and a long-term decrease to inhibit a reduction in lung function.
Neuroendocrine and Nervous SystemNeurological consequences of COVID-19 can be mild to severe, ranging from headaches and loss of smell to hemorrhagic stroke and Guillain-Barré syndrome. There have also been autopsy reports showing widespread brain lesions in the COVID-19 deceased.
Long COVID can cause devastating neurological symptoms in the brain, including tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, brain inflammation, chronic fatigue syndrome, and anxiety and depression. Neurological symptoms can result from either the neuropathic effect of the virus or an indirect effect of neuroinflammation.
Specific exerkines released during exercise can enhance the growth and development of brain tissue and improve mood and cognition, making them a helpful medicine in negating the detrimental effects of COVID-19 and long COVID.
Immune SystemA robust immune defense is essential in fighting the COVID-19 virus. Many people with a delayed immune response can experience both pronounced COVID-19 symptoms and long COVID.
The T cell-mediated adaptive immune response is a major determinant of the clinical outcome of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Older people often have ineffective and nonfunctional T cells, making them more at risk of severe infection. “The most severe outcomes of COVID are associated with age, so we’re seeing most mortality in older people, and at any age, people who exercise may fare better,” Mr. Noymer told The Epoch Times.
Mechanisms for Repair of COVID-19 Organ DamageA hallmark of debilitating and deadly cases of COVID-19 has been multi-organ damage, including of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and spleen. Exercise releases stem cells to repair damaged heart and skeletal muscle tissue. Exercise also stimulates bone marrow to generate immune cells and release cells that help grow and heal blood vessels.
Additional Recommendations“I don’t know any doctor who would say exercise will hurt you,” Mr. Hoover said. “People with adrenal issues or prone to cardiovascular events need to approach exercise more slowly, but we all have to start somewhere.”
He suggests increasing intensity as the body adjusts.
Research continues to show the cellular and molecular pathways and mechanisms that exercise affects and the effects of exerkines on all body systems. Such findings reinforce the assertion that physical activity can help mitigate COVID-19 infection and address currently “untreatable” symptoms of long COVID.
Mr. Noymer cautions: “It’s important for your readers to keep in mind that exercise will not prevent COVID infection entirely. Age is the most significant factor in severe COVID, and Father Time comes for us all, regardless of how much we exercise.”