Regular Exercise Can Protect Against Deadly Coronavirus Complications, Study Says


Dr. Zhen Yan: “We cannot live in isolation forever. 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.”


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is one of the major complications caused by COVID-19. Even though only a small percentage of coronavirus patients develop ARDS, the majority of those cases end up in the intensive care unit. According to a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, regular exercise could hold the key to keeping patients from developing deadly complications like ARDS.

Dr. Zhen Yan says his research found a powerful antioxidant that helps protect against disease and can be produced through exercise. Yan’s study shows ARDS affects between three and 17 percent of COVID-19 patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adds that about 20 to 42 percent of hospitalized coronavirus cases will develop ARDS. Prior to the global pandemic, researchers said nearly half of severe ARDS cases turn fatal.

Zhen Yan, PhD, is top exercise researcher. He is the director of the Center for Skeletal Muscle Research at UVA’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center. (Photo Credit: Dan Addison | UVA Communications)

“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 statement. “The flip side of the story is that approximately 80% of confirmed COVID-19 patients have mild symptoms with no need of respiratory support.”

Yan explains that the antioxidant extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD) could have a lot to do with keeping the majority of coronavirus cases mild.

The study says EcSOD hunts down free radicals and protects the body’s tissue from disease. Our muscles naturally make EcSOD, but the study adds that its production is increased by cardiovascular exercise.

“We cannot live in isolation forever,” Yan 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.”

The director of the Center for Skeletal Muscle Research at UVA’s Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center adds that EcSOD could possibly be used as a treatment for ARDS. The study looks at how gene therapy might be used in the future to make more of the antioxidant in patients.

Tests on lab rats with chronic kidney disease have already shown that treating them with human EcSOD resulted in less kidney damage in the animals.

“We often say that exercise is medicine. EcSOD set a perfect example that we can learn from the biological process of exercise to advance medicine,” Yan concluded.

The study was published in the journal Redox Biology.

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