Regular exercise can potentially prevent life-threatening cases of COVID-19, according to a review from Zhen Yan, a top exercise researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.
Cardiovascular exercise increases the production of an antioxidant called extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD). Yan compiled a comprehensive review of existing research to find that increased levels of this antioxidant protect the lungs from developing a severe complication associated with COVID-19, called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Even a single session of exercise increases the production of this lung-protecting antioxidant.
Some cases of COVID-19 progress to the lungs and cause ARDS, a condition in which fluid collects in the lungs and deprives the body of oxygen. ARDS is a major cause of death in COVID-19 patients. Around 20% to 42% of patients hospitalized with the virus develop ARDS, and approximately 45% of those that develop severe cases of ARDS will die, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and prior research.
Yan's review suggests that exercise can prevent or reduce the severity of ARDS, according to a press release about the project. "Regular exercise has far more health benefits than we know. The protection against this severe respiratory disease condition is just one of the many examples," said Yan. The findings were published in the journal Redox Biology.