Improving your cardiorespiratory fitness level may help protect you from COVID-19

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A new study from researchers at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health suggests that improving your cardiorespiratory fitness level may help protect you from COVID-19.

The findings, published last week in the journal PLOS One, indicate that fit people have a reduced risk of dying from the disease.

“One of the really cool findings of this study is that anyone with an above low level of physical activity is better protected,” says Rebecca Christensen, a Ph.D. student and lead author of the study. “Running once in a blue moon won’t protect you but if you are running regularly, you’re doing fine.”

The researchers examined a cohort of 2,690 adults from the UK Biobank Study and focused solely on the risk associated with death and the likelihood of catching the virus. They found no significant association between level of fitness and risk of infection. The study did not examine disease severity which would include hospitalization.

The data range was limited to ages 49 to 80, but the sample was large enough to look at COVID-specific death.

The team observed physical activity by percentile within ten-year age bands given the UK Biobank’s limited variables. The lowest 20th percentile was categorized as low fitness; the 40th to 80th percentile was moderate; and above the 80th percentile was above average.

Researchers observed that even low-to-moderate exercise seems to make a difference.

“Someone who just goes from doing no fitness to doing some fitness, could see appreciable benefits. And that’s why we pulled data based on age and activity-level thresholds,” Christensen says.

“We want to see if you could just do something, will it have an impact?

The answer is yes – as long as you’re doing something consistently.”

Physical activity declines with age but “if you’re fitter for people within your age group, are you going to have a benefit? The answer is still yes,” Christensen says.

A routine must include a cardio intense workout, one where you break a sweat or are breathing heavily says Christensen, but you don’t need to be a marathon runner. The greatest benefit is in moving from inactivity to some consistent amount of physical activity.

There are known cases of athletes catching COVID-19. Christensen says that the nature of their work increases the likelihood of catching COVID-19 as most are exercising in an environment with others in close settings.

The severity of symptoms could be linked to the physical stress of the athlete’s intense workouts, she adds.

“People who exercise a lot can actually have a decrease in their immune system by over exercising,” she notes.

The World Health Organization recently doubled its recommended physical activity guideline. “We’ve got up to 300 minutes (about five hours) instead of 150 minutes (about two and a half hours) per week. So, we’re starting to see the importance of physical activity.”

Christensen advises, “the sooner you start, the better and then you’ll build up. You can make quite large gains when you go from doing nothing to doing anything.”


Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”.1 Evidence suggests that the severity of COVID-19 is associated with the health status of individuals prior to infection.1, 2, 3

Factors linked with increased risk of hospitalization and mortality in COVID-19 patients include overweight/obesity, diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance, arterial hypertension and its comorbidities, and coronary heart and cerebrovascular diseases.2,3 Sedentary behavior, poor dietary habits, and physical inactivity are characterized by chronic and high inflammation.4,5

Supposedly, these conditions make people more vulnerable to the most serious forms of COVID-19. People with more morbidities and low levels of functional capacity on admission to the hospital; immunosuppression and chronic low-grade inflammation characterized by increased levels of several proinflammatory cytokines, particularly the elderly, tend to have more severe forms of the disease and higher mortality rates.2, 3, 4, 5 It should be noted that moderate levels of physical exercise improve immunity and could provide an immuno-protective effect.5

One important point is that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the practice of physical exercise could contribute to reduced social and economic concerns and negative health, physical, and mental impacts. However, to decrease the disease dissemination/transmission in many countries,6,7 it is necessary to keep closed public facilities involving clusters of people such as exercise facilities and gyms. Supposedly, this scenario could worsen the pandemic of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors as well as mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forward the importance of healthy living including PA during the period of quarantine, isolation, and social distancing recommended by The World Health Organization (WHO)1,8 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).9, 10, 11 However, social isolation and quarantine can have a negative impact on physical exercise levels, quality of life, and physical fitness, while increasing psychiatric disorders.12,13

The physical exercise is an important tool because it could reduce noncommunicable diseases risk (heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and associated with reducing arterial hypertension, overweight, and obesity) associated with sedentary lifestyle14,15 during and after social isolation and quarantine.1,8, 9, 10, 11,16 For example, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase screen time and decreased energy expenditure. This type of sedentary behavior is associated with an increase in morbidity and prevalence of noncommunicable diseases.

According to the WHO,17 regular physical exercise participation is essential for preventing and treating non-communicable diseases which can improve and maintain mental health, quality of life, wellbeing, and improve the quality of the aging process.14,15,18,19

However, during the COVID-19 outbreak, the levels of physical exercise around the world have decreased significantly because of social isolation and physical inactivity6 and consequently increased the risk for mental disorders.6,7 Thus, maintaining physical exercise levels is an effective way to deal with the negative effects imposed by confinement and strategies created by health professionals to face these situations must be implemented.

For example, through education and health promotion campaigns, initiatives to encourage and give access to home-based exercise was programmed. Therefore, physical exercise professionals should use different communication channels including television, social networks and media, and technological resources to bring education for the use of low cost and viable physical exercise programming. the use of education and technological inclusion, in the context of public health associated with the pandemic, is necessary to increase and/or maintain global physical exercise levels during social isolation and confinement.

Finally, the scientific information production concerning COVID-19 vs. physical exercise is moving at a rapid pace, producing interesting public health information. In addition, the dynamics and profile of scientific production are interesting to observe.

Thus, the aims of this review are (1) to present main terms and concepts about (and applied in) COVID-19 pandemic and physical exercise; (2) to describe/assess the dynamics of scientific information production concerning physical exercise and COVID-19 in the PubMed database taken during the first two months of the pandemic; and (3) to conduct a review of randomized controlled trial articles for one-year of information production focusing on the year 2020 concerning COVID-19 and PA, physical exercise, physical training, sport, and physical fitness.

reference link : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S266633762100024X


More information: Rebecca A. G. Christensen et al. The association of estimated cardiorespiratory fitness with COVID-19 incidence and mortality: A cohort study, PLOS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250508

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