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Exercise an effective weapon against pandemic, UVa study finds

Exercise may reduce the risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with COVID-19, according to a review from a University of Virginia professor.

Zhen Yan, of the university’s School of Medicine, has conducted a review of medical research findings that “strongly support” the possibility that exercise can prevent or at least reduce the severity of ARDS, which affects between 3% and 17% of all patients with COVID-19.

Research conducted prior to the pandemic suggested that approximately 45% of patients who d Zhen Yan evelop severe ARDS will die, according to the review.

“All you hear now is either social distancing or ventilator, as if all we can do is either avoiding exposure or relying on a ventilator to survive if we get infected,” Yan said in a news release from the university. “The flip side of the story is that approximately 80% of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms with no need of respiratory support. The question is why. Our findings about an endogenous antioxidant enzyme provide important clues and have intrigued us to develop a novel therapeutic for ARDS caused by COVID-19.”

Yan, who is the director of the Center for Skeletal Muscle Research at UVa’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center, compiled a review of existing medical research looking at an antioxidant known as “extracellular superoxide dismutase.”

The antioxidant hunts down harmful free radicals, protecting tissues and helping to prevent disease, according to UVa’s release.

Muscles naturally make the antioxidant, secreting it into the circulation system to allow binding to other vital organs, but its production is enhanced by cardiovascular exercise, per Yan’s review.

According to Yan, research suggests that even a single session of exercise increases production of the antioxidant, prompting Yan to urge people to find ways to exercise even while maintaining social distancing.

“We cannot live in isolation forever,” he said. “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.”


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