The Importance of Exercise during COVID-19 Isolation

Your friends, family and doctor have probably already impressed upon you the importance of exercise, but if you haven’t adopted a more active lifestyle yet, you should strongly consider doing so now while you are in isolation from COVID-19. You don’t need a lot of space to lift weights, use a stationary bike or perform a yoga routine, so limited space isn’t a valid excuse. More importantly, you will feel better for doing so—both now in quarantine and when you return to life as usual.

Exercise is even more of a concern for people with other health issues like high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes. Not only could long periods of inactivity worsen these health conditions, necessitating a risky visit to the doctor’s office or emergency room, but they could also make fighting off a COVID-19 infection that much more difficult.

What Is COVID-19?

In case you have not paid attention to the latest details of the global pandemic, here are some important facts about COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 is the illness caused by a novel coronavirus originally identified in Wuhan, China.
  • Like other respiratory illnesses like influenza or the common cold, COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or direct contact.
  • It is possible for the coronavirus to remain alive in the air and on surfaces, although how long is unclear.
  • COVID-19 is often accompanied by fever, cough and difficulty breathing, but it may not have any symptoms.
  • Although elderly people and those with underlying conditions are at greatest risk of dying from COVID-19, anyone may become infected and possibly die.
  • The incubation period for COVID-19 may range from 2 to 14 days.
  • If you exhibit the following, seek medical care immediately
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain or pressure that persists
    • Mental confusion or inability to arouse
    • Blue-tinged lips or face

The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to remain in your home with minimal contact with people outside of your immediate family.  If you must travel outside of your home, maintain a minimum of six feet between you and anyone else, and you should wear a face mask to keep from spreading germs to other people.

Why You Should Remain in Quarantine

It may not seem obvious why you have to remain in isolation during this pandemic, but there are some very good reasons. The most important reason, of course, is that COVID-19 is very contagious and you don’t want to catch it from anyone else. You should note that the Ro of COVID-19 is about 5.8 while, in comparison, influenza has an Ro of only 1.3. This means that one person with COVID-19 is likely to infect 5.8 other people; this elevated infection rate is because COVID-19 symptoms may take several days to appear, but spread of the disease may take place long before that.

You may have heard that the fatality rate is about 1 or 2 percent, but the risk of infection is so high that your risk of developing severe symptoms requiring hospitalization is quite high. This is because much more of the public is likely to become infected, so your likelihood of requiring intensive medical care is much higher than with other respiratory illnesses.

It might occur to you that you should take the risk and expose yourself so that you can obtain immunity, but that is foolish for a number of reasons. Firstly, you don’t need to put your life at risk when you can wait until a vaccine is available. Secondly, you don’t want to get seriously ill when thousands of others are at the same time because it will overwhelm the health care system.

Why Exercise Helps

Although you are safer from COVID-19 at home, there are still some important health risks to be aware of in isolation.  First of all, you may find yourself settling in to a sedentary lifestyle that involves long stretches of sitting in front of a TV or phone screen. This may lead to weight gain, loss of muscle strength, and joint damage.

Just a few minutes of exercise a day can help you avoid these health risks. In general, you should get about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week.  You should also include some kind of muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

Another big risk you face while in quarantine is decline in emotional health. Many people are having issues with anxiety and depression due to loss of social support and fears about COVID-19, but exercise can help mitigate these issues.  When you exercise, your body boosts production of endorphins which diminish pain and elevate mood.

In a related issue, long periods of isolation with limited exposure to sunlight and normal daily activities can perturb your sleep cycle.  You may find yourself having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or maintaining a normal sleep cycle. Vigorous physical exertion can help you maintain a regular sleep rhythm.

It is important to consider your long term health as well. It may not seem like a big issue if you miss a few workout sessions, but if you make it a habit, you could be at risk of serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes or stroke.  Staying active should help minimize these risks.

Most importantly, regular exercise may help you survive COVID-19 if you become infected. There are no conclusive studies that confirm this, but drawing from research on other respiratory illnesses, it may be inferred. One study of 24,000 people found that mild to moderate exercise did help lessen the risk of dying from influenza.

It has been theorized that physical activity flushes bacteria and other pathogens from the lungs; this helps prevent secondary infections like pneumonia that often prove fatal in COVID-19 patients. Furthermore, exercise promotes blood circulation which enables immune system components like antibodies and white blood cells to more quickly attack foreign bodies like the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care

M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees.  The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship.  Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.