Benefits of Exercise and COVID-19
We’ve all heard about the benefits of exercise for physical and mental health. Of particular interest, in light of the pandemic, is recent medical research showing that regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a major cause of death in patients with COVID-19. Research prior to the pandemic suggested that approximately 45 percent of patients who develop severe ARDS will die (1).
The good news is that approximately 80% of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms with no need for respiratory support.
The question is why some people recover fully from COVID-19, with little distress, while others become seriously ill or die. The answer could be partly due to exercise.
Protective Antioxidant Increased During Exercise
An antioxidant known as extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) has been found to hunt down harmful free radicals, thus protecting our tissues from oxidative stress and helping to prevent damage and disease. Our muscles naturally make EcSOD, but its production is increased by cardiovascular exercise. Even a single session of exercise increases production of the antioxidant (1).
EcSOD in disease
A decrease in EcSOD is seen in several diseases, including acute lung disease, ischaemic heart disease, kidney failure and osteoarthritis. Lab research suggests that blocking its production worsens heart problems, while increasing it has a beneficial effect.
EcSOD as Treatment
The researchers suggest EcSOD could be a potential treatment for ARDS and many other health conditions. For example, lab rats with chronic kidney disease had less kidney damage when treated with human EcSOD. The antioxidant is also being proposed as a potential therapeutic for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness (1).
This goes to show that, although we don’t know everything there is to know about the benefits of exercise, it is clear that it is a powerful preventative medicine for many diseases and a preserver of health.
1. Yan Z, Spaulding HR. Extracellular superoxide dismutase, a molecular transducer of health benefits of exercise. Redox Biology