Since the beginning of the pandemic and throughout the health crisis, the fitness industry has been deemed “non-essential” by local and national policymakers.
Unfortunately, the government officials who are making these decisions do not recognize the power of exercise to promote health and reduce the disease severity of Covid-19, as well as many other medical conditions.
As a fitness professional I believe COVID-19 is a serious threat and our response as an industry is essential, because the exercise and lifestyle-based approaches we promote will save lives and eventually lead us back to normalcy.
In a recent editorial published in the Wiley Online Library, researchers discussed the need to address the underlying susceptibility of our population to infectious disease and the importance of lifestyle-based approaches:
“Although the true spread and case fatality rate of SARS‐CoV‐2 may not be known for several months or even years, what is becoming increasingly clear is the significant degree to which underlying conditions associated with suboptimal metabolic health appear to be associated with poor outcomes in those with COVID-19.
Considering the nature of these underlying conditions such as obesity and hypertension, lifestyle-based approaches are likely to be one of our best tools in order to address ongoing and future disease burden during pandemics. ”
What is Metabolic Health?
Metabolic health is defined as having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference, without using medications.
In a 2018 study published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers found that only 12 percent of Americans have optimal metabolic health! The remaining 88 percent have one or more measures that indicate they have metabolic dysfunction and that their bodies are not able to process and utilize carbohydrates and fats efficiently.
The good news is that we can improve our metabolic health and prevent or reverse the comorbidities associated with severe Covid-19 by making healthy lifestyle choices.
The Metabolic Health Benefits of Exercise
Scientists have long known that exercise is good for us. Countless studies have shown that people who work out are less likely than sedentary people to develop numerous health problems, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the most prevalent comorbidities associated with severe Covid-19.
One of the greatest benefits of exercise is how it affects metabolism. Metabolism is the set of cellular mechanisms that generate energy from the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe in order to power every cell in the body, including the immune system. When these energy producing pathways are running smoothly we have optimal metabolic health.
According to new research published in the journal Cardiovascular Research, exercise may be even more efficient at helping us burn fat and convert food into energy than previously thought.
For this study, researchers examined about 200 metabolites – substances produced during metabolic processes that signal how the metabolism responds to exercise – from the blood of 52 young soldiers. The blood samples were taken before and after an intense 80 day training program which involved both strength and aerobic exercise.
With this unique group, researchers were able to examine the metabolic effects of exercise while controlling for differences between participants in diet, stress, sleep patterns, and work environment.
“By removing the ‘noise’ from the signal that might come with individual differences, the magnitude of changes seen were far greater than previously reported,” stated senior study author, John O’Sullivan, MD, PhD. “Global metabolism was dramatically changed in response to chronic exercise.”
What Can We Do Now?
Without a doubt, this study and decades of existing evidence proves that exercise has extraordinary power to improve our metabolic health and reduce our susceptibility to infectious disease.
At a time when the current pandemic is threatening to overwhelm our healthcare system, classifying the fitness industry as nonessential is sending the wrong message to a population that is already too sedentary and overweight. Fitness studios should be promoted by public health as essential. We are part of the solution!