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Exercise May Help Prevent This Deadly COVID Complication, Study Finds

Get more movement now to lower your risks later.
Senior athlete walking outdoors in the city

One of the biggest challenges with COVID-19 is the significant respiratory effects that can result—that's the reason the pandemic's early months created such a scramble for ventilators.

While there's no guarantee that you'll have breathing issues if you get the virus, researchers suggest there is a way to lower the risk of symptoms turning into something more serious, or perhaps even deadly. Simply put: Get moving.

Researchers at the University of Virginia found that exercise can largely prevent or at least reduce the severity of a condition called ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, which affects between 3-17% of patients with COVID-19.

ARDS is a form of lung damage that diminishes the organ's ability to provide oxygen throughout the body, which can cause major issues with other organs like your heart and brain. The complication also tends to cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs, making virus sufferers feel like they can't catch their breath. Or worse, can't breathe on their own without assistance. (Related: The One Vitamin Doctors Are Urging Everyone to Take Right Now.)

But, the researchers suggest, exercise can be a powerful prevention strategy. Lead researcher Zhen Yan, Ph.D. at the UVA School of Medicine, said in a statement that exercise can increase the body's amount of antioxidants—which can protect tissues and help prevent disease. Our muscles already make a certain amount of the substance, but cardiovascular exercise ramps up the production.

Cardiovascular exercise can also play a role in "training" the lungs, similar to respiratory therapy, adds Baruch Vainshelboim, Ph.D., of Stanford University, a researcher who found that fitness can also help prevent certain cancers.

"Exercise is known to improve physiological functioning in many ways, including an improved metabolic state, enhanced immune system operation, and a more balanced and regulated hormonal system," he says.

Best of all, it doesn't take much to get your body's antioxidant factory working overtime.

"Regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know," said Yan. "The protection against this severe respiratory condition is just one of the many examples."

Recently, Yan has launched a new research effort to discover even more connections between exercise and disease prevention—including an investigation into potential new medications that can mimic exercise's benefits for those who aren't able to get enough activity, such as people with lower mobility.

"The health benefits of exercise are way beyond our imagination," Yan stated. "The underlying reasons for the superb health benefits of exercise are being uncovered by many talented and passionate scientists around the world."

For more, be sure to check out What Can Happen To Your Body If You Don't Exercise.

Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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