COVID-19: Exercise may protect against deadly complication

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In a new study, researchers found that regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with the COVID-19 virus.

They showed that medical research findings “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.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Based on available information, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 20% to 42% of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 will develop ARDS.

The range for patients admitted to intensive care is estimated at 67% to 85%.

Research conducted prior to the pandemic suggested that approximately 45% of patients who develop severe ARDS will die.

In the study, the team compiled an in-depth review of existing medical research, including his own, looking at an antioxidant known as “extracellular superoxide dismutase” (EcSOD).

This potent antioxidant hunts down harmful free radicals, protecting our tissues and helping to prevent disease.

Our muscles naturally make EcSOD, secreting it into the circulation to allow binding to other vital organs, but its production is enhanced by cardiovascular exercise.

A decrease in the antioxidant is seen in several diseases, including acute lung disease, ischemic heart disease and kidney failure.

Lab research in mice suggests that blocking its production worsens heart problems while increasing it has a beneficial effect. A decrease in EcSOD is also associated with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis.

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

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 team’s review also suggests EcSOD as a potential treatment for ARDS and many other health conditions.

Gene therapy, for example, might one day be used to increase the production of the antioxidant so that its protective presence in the lungs is enhanced in patients battling COVID-19.

Research has also shown that lab rats with chronic kidney disease had less kidney damage when treated with human EcSOD.

The antioxidant is already being proposed as a potential therapeutic for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness.

Further, EcSOD also may prove beneficial against multi-organ dysfunction syndrome, in which multiple organs begin to fail.

Efforts to treat the condition with general antioxidants have been unsuccessful, but the team suggests that understanding EcSOD’s workings may let doctors use it in a more targeted—and hopefully more effective—fashion.

The lead author of the study is Zhen Yan, Ph.D.

The study is published in Redox Biology.

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