As the pandemic progressed, there was a suspicion that those who participated in regular physical activity were less likely to develop a serious illness when infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus, writes DR MOHAMMED NASIR JAFFER.
‘AND whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.’ (Quran 5:32)
Physical inactivity is a major contributor towards ill health. Exercise is a preventative measure against many medical illnesses, and it is prescribed in treating established diseases. Regular exercise affords significant benefits to the body and mind by contributing to an individual’s overall wellbeing.
During the first stages of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a hard lockdown was decreed. At that time, there was a massive reduction of daily activities, and the focus was on survival. Exercise was not a priority. Citizens were suddenly housebound, including many who were previously physically active. Healthcare practitioners, especially those involved in the promotion of physical activity, were extremely concerned that people’s health would be negatively affected as a result of the lockdown. However, some motivated citizens found ingenious ways of continuing with their physical activities, albeit in a remodelled way.
As the pandemic progressed, there was a suspicion that those who participated in regular physical activity were less likely to develop a serious illness when infected with the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Many elite sportspeople who were infected recovered fairly quickly from the illness, very few were admitted to hospital and even fewer succumbed to their illness.
Some medical reasons for the apparent ‘protection’ against severe COVID-19 infections in those involved in regular physical activity are:
- The immune system is strengthened, thereby resulting in an increased resistance to developing infectious illnesses, as well as a better response by the body to counter these illnesses.
- The lungs are a target in severe COVID-19 infections, thus many severely infected people eventually need supplemental oxygen and breathing assistant devices, ventilators and even specialised care in an ICU. Regular exercise strengthens the lungs, promotes efficient breathing and oxygen transfer to the blood. Exercise is beneficial in protecting the lungs from the detrimental effects of being subjected to an assault by a viral infection.
- Exercise prevents many medical illnesses and it is prescribed in the treatment of established diseases, for example, heart disease, weakened lung function, diabetes and many cancers. These are very high-risk comorbidities which increase the possibility of severe illness and even death among those infected with the coronavirus.
- The lockdown has had a major impact on the psychological status of many individuals. Social isolation, job uncertainty and sudden loss or reduction of income have caused increases in stress disorders and depression. There has been subsequent overeating, insomnia, an increase in physical-domestic abuse, among other maladies. This has had a devastating effect on the psyche of many people.
Regular physical activity has proven to decrease anger and hostility, counter the negative effects of depression, raise self-esteem and induce a sense of well-being. Two recently released medical articles have been instrumental in creating world-wide awareness with regard to the major benefits which regular exercise affords those afflicted by COVID-19 infection.
The first was by Dr Robert Sallis, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, on April 7, 2021. His article looked at almost 50 000 adults in 2020 who were infected with COVID-19 infection. His conclusion was that those who were physically active and had the COVID-19 infection had a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. His recommendation was that public health agencies should prioritise promotion of physical activity.
The second article was by Professor Sebastien Chastin, on March 31, 2021, published in the Sports Medicine Journal, who concluded, ‘Regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity is associated with reduced risk of community-acquired infectious diseases and infectious disease mortality, enhances the first line of defence of the immune system, and increases the potency of vaccination.’
Both these articles confirm the massive impact that regular exercise has on the body’s ability to reduce the chances of developing severe illness outcomes and even death when infected by the SARS-Cov-2 virus. It is with the above in mind that there should be no valid reason to delay a decision to start moving the body.
The present lockdown level has made it easier to begin, recommence or continue exercise activities. The sooner one starts, the quicker the benefits will accrue, and the protection will be established. Even low-level exercise done regularly and consistently has major medical benefits so, no more excuses!
- Dr Mohammed Nasir Jaffer [MB ChB, MPhil (Sports Med) (UCT)] is a sports doctor.