Pandemic Perspective #30 October 17, 2020

            Something to keep in mind when you don’t feel like exercising.

            I know, I know – I’m nagging! But I just learned something new about the value of exercise: some people have fat lungs!

            We were only a couple of months into the COVID-19 pandemic when it became clear that not only were persons over the age of 70 more likely to have severe or fatal infection, but younger people who were obese or overweight were too. In an article published just last month entitled A Preventive Role of Exercise Across the Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Pandemic in the journal Frontiers in Physiology, an international group of scientists gave two reasons why this is so. First, the tiny spaces in the lungs that allow the transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream become surrounded by fat in persons who are overweight or obese, thus hindering delivery of oxygen. Second, the more fat cells in the lung the more receptors for ACE2, (Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2) which not only facilitate the entry of coronaviruses into cells but through a complex mechanism also contribute to destruction of lung tissue. That helps to explain why so many victims of COVID-19 end up on ventilators, often with fatal outcomes.

            The influenza season has begun just as coronavirus cases are ratcheting up in several parts of the country. Just like the coronavirus, influenza attacks the lungs and those most affected are the overweight or obese. This should be be a wake-up call to become more active, not only to get rid of some of those fat cells but also because exercise itself boosts immunity for reasons not yet fully explained.

            How much exercise do you need? The authors of the article suggest 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) per week consisting of both aerobic (walking, jogging, etc.) and resistance exercise (weights, elastic bands, machines, etc.) Lest you fret that it’s already too late for you to lose enough weight to matter, you should know that losing only about 10 or 15 pounds has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood sugar – elevations of both are also risk factors for serious disease from the coronavirus. By exercising the recommended amount and cutting back on about 500-1000 calories per day you can lose about two pounds per week. New Year’s is only about ten weeks away so you can do that before the peak of the flu season arrives.

            Oh! And did I mention that you also must get the flu vaccine?

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