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Why exercise can help us survive COVID-19 and other diseases

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Posted at 9:46 AM, Jan 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-10 21:27:44-05

A new study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows people who exercise just 30 minutes a day are four times more likely to survive a potentially fatal COVID-19 infection than those who do not exercise, concluding public health leaders should add physical activity to pandemic control strategies.

Exercise can be beneficial to a myriad of health issues, and medical experts say that is partly due to controlling inflammation within our bodies.

“Our body is usually in a state of inflammation, and what exercise does is it helps reduce the inflammatory response that’s constantly going on in our bodies,” said Dr. Scott Joy, an internal medicine physician and the chief medical officer for HealthOne.

There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is our body’s natural, and usually helpful, response to injury, infection, or other dangers, but it sometimes spins out of control and leads to chronic inflammation, which persists for no apparent reason as it damages healthy cells, tissues, and organs. If left unaddressed, it can be life-threatening.

Exercise gets our bodies used to inflammation as it stresses it but in more moderate and controlled ways.

“People who exercise are constantly giving their immune system a workout, and when they see a new insult, the immune system is kind of ready to go and it doesn’t overreact,” said Joy. “The people who don’t exercise regularly, their immune system sees a new stressor and they overreact and that’s what we see with COVID. It wasn’t the virus per se that was causing it, it was the body’s inflammatory response that led to swelling in lungs, increased fluid, increased inflammation and that’s the problem.”

But that does not just go for COVID-19; exercise also helps our body’s response to heart disease, blood clots, and cancers as it prompts our bodies to release chemicals that reduce swelling and create more capacity.

In the case of blood clots, exercise increases our body’s natural blood-thinning mechanisms which can help break up clots. It also creates more blood vessels which can act as a reserve if others are damaged by say, a blocked artery.

Experts say as little as 30 minutes of moderate activity each day can help you stay well and defend against foreign invaders.