We all know that the first line of defence to protect ourselves from coronavirus is to wash your hands, stay home when possible, wear a mask when you’re out and keep at least six feet distance, and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently.
But a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine is proposing another key behavior is added to the list: exercise — and I am not surprised.
Zhen Yan, a professor of cardiovascular medicine who runs a molecular exercise physiology lab at UVA, showed that exercise boosts the production of an antioxidant known as “extracellular superoxide dismutase,” or EcSOD, which in turn, protects against acute lung disease and other diseases. “If you exercise regularly you will have more EcSOD and better ability to deal with any stressors,” Yan says.
Although our muscles naturally produce EcSOD, Yan says, “they produce it in higher quantities during vigorous exercise”. He says after it is produced in the skeletal muscles, it then spreads through the blood to other organs, such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys. “It’s a potent enzyme,” Yan says. “And it’s unique because, so far, it is the only known antioxidant enzyme that naturally works in the fluid, noncellular part of blood known as plasma, and it breaks down toxic free radicals produced during disease processes”.
Although research shows that a single stint of exercise will increase our production of the enzyme, we don’t have evidence that just one bout of exercise will increase EcSOD to the level that it will be protective. “It is more likely that the protective effect builds up over time with regular exercise” says Yan.
Brett Bade, MD, a pulmonologist and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, adds, exercise has always been foundational to our health and continues to be now during this health crisis. While exercise is clearly beneficial for heart and lung health, it needs to be recognized that this research review from Yan’s group needs to be further studied to look at ARDS in people with COVid-19 specifically. “It is possible that booting your immune system and anti-inflammatory properties via exercise could reduce the chance of infection or the severity of disease,” Dr. Bade says.