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Coronavirus and Fitness: Stacking the Deck to Win

An athletic blond woman stretches her hamstring while leading an online fitness class.

True story: It was once my job to find stories about people who would probably be dead if not for fitness.

When we started looking for these stories, the stuff we found was jaw-dropping.

Here’s a woman who was run over three times in quick succession: Angie Rodriguez. Doctors told her she lived only because she was fit.

Jeremy Magee fell 25 feet, and doctors told him he avoided death and paralysis because he had a strong back.

Stephen Walker survived a brain infection, and Anthony Kemp fought off a snake bite.

There’s more: Heart attack, cancer and a host of other medical issues.

I want to be clear: I’m not saying fitness cures disease or is a replacement for medical care, social distancing and hand washing. I’m not a doctor, and this is not medical advice.

But I am saying that if anything bad happens, I firmly believe fitter people have a greater chance of survival.

What Science Says

You will find political movements that currently demonize fitness as a negative element created by diet culture and societal pressure to look a certain way.

I’m not making a political statement, and I’m not here to argue with anyone. If you are happier when you don’t work out, I respect your decision even if I don’t agree with it.

Fitness isn’t political for me. It isn’t about aesthetics, either. I work out because doing so makes me feel better mentally and physically. And I know that it will give me the best chance of living the life I want for as long as possible.

Fitness provides a host of benefits. But I’m not going to try and convince anyone. Science can do that. Here’s what we know for certain:

The Mayo Clinic says exercise improves moods, boosts energy, produces better sleep, and supercharges sex.

As if that weren’t enough, “Regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems and concerns, including: stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, many types of cancer, arthritis (and) falls.”

That’s an incredible list—with zero negative side effects. None. Pay particular attention to “metabolic syndrome” in the paragraph above. We’ll get to that in a minute.

So if I wanted to give myself the best chance to overcome anything—from an accident to an infection to a bout of the blues and a lack of self-confidence—I’d choose fitness first. How much? About two to five hours a week. And if I wanted to increase my odds further, I’d eat more vegetables and less processed food.

Combined, those two simple steps can be life changing.

Coronavirus and Fitness

Right now, the coronavirus pandemic is causing widespread chaos and hardship. It’s causing sickness, death and financial distress. It’s a global tragedy.

But as doctors and researchers fight the disease, I’ve been interested to read what they’re discovering about fitness.

Again, let me be clear: I am not saying fitness cures or prevents COVID-19. Nor am I saying “I told you so” to any group of people who don’t value fitness.

But if you do work out, you should feel good about that decision. You’ve given yourself the best chance to stay healthy.

From the University of Virginia: “Regular exercise may reduce the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with the COVID-19 virus, a top exercise researcher reports.”

Read: “Exercise May Protect Against Deadly COVID-19 Complication, Research Suggests”

In a European Scientist article, Aseem Malhotra explained that poor public health before COVID-19 is making the effects of the disease worse. His most important point might be that obesity isn’t the only health concern:

“Normal weight metabolically unhealthy (people) have a more than three-fold risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events than those who are normal weight and metabolically healthy. There’s no such thing as a healthy weight, only a healthy person.”

Translation: Eating poorly can mess up your insides even if you don’t appear to be overweight or unhealthy.

Again, I’m not here to debate weight stigma or anti-fat bias. Malhotra’s assertion isn’t that overweight people are more likely to die from COVID-19; it’s that people with metabolic syndrome are far more likely to die.

But there’s hope. Just as pollution levels and infection rates are dropping after only about six weeks of social distancing, people can rapidly improve their health by eating better and exercising.

“Given the speed at which health markers for metabolic disease improve from dietary interventions, an equally strong if not more significant population health message should now be to ‘eat real food … and save lives,'” Malhotra wrote.

Read: “COVID-19 and the Elephant in the Room”

Quick Improvements Are Possible

If you’re reading this as a person who works out and eats well, you deserve a virtual high five. You’ve made wise investments in your health, and you’ve set yourself up to get through this tough period.

If you don’t work or or don’t eat very well, now’s the time to make a change. And we can help.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen scores of unfit or unhealthy people start working out and eating better. Without exception, those who continue on that plan experience dramatic positive changes. They usually tell us about the changes—and we can usually see them, too.

But we also have objective measures. We have data that shows healthy people lift more and run faster, and we see them trading body fat for muscle when we scan them with an InBody machine. Beyond that, our clients often share medical results with us, and they show improvements in blood work and other important markers.

Coronavirus is a real concern, and, as our authorities state, prevention is best. For now, that means social distancing and hand washing.

But I’d like to suggest that prevention of disease is always the best plan—pandemic or not. For me, and for our clients, prevention involves non-medical health care in the form of regular exercise and healthy food.

Sure, some fit people still get very sick, and some die. We’ve lost two members to cancer over the years, for example (both fought like lions and worked out until the very end, by the way).

Fitness does not make you invincible. But it does make you harder to kill—of that, I am certain.

Overall, I feel much better knowing that each of our clients will go into any fight healthier than the average person. And they’ll have a much better chance of winning that fight.

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