If I were an expert on anything, it would be somewhere in the category of fitness but not in medicine.
What is fitness, anyway?
This question has been asked by health, exercise, wellness, medical and fitness experts for over 50 years, pretty much since Dr Ken Cooper researched and wrote on, and developed the very idea of, ‘aerobics‘. And it’s been answered in many ways, mostly quite comprehensive enough to not be in dispute among professionals.
For the sake of this blog post, though, I’ll keep my definition short: fitness is the ability to do what you want, need and must do to live as healthy, independent and vibrant life you desire.
This allows for subjectivity to determine fitness. It accommodates changes in goals and needs that might crop up as you age, as disease or infirmities hit, and other relative distortions and deviations that may occur.
In the time of coronavirus or covid-19, we are into a new version of fitness no matter how fit you are. For many, the lockdown and shelter-in-place orders have not altered their ability or desire to stay fit. For many others, however, it has been a shock to their systems. More sitting around the house, less indoor exercise if not less outdoor exercise (hey, at least it’s spring, right?), less healthy eating, possibly fear and isolation (yes, psychology is one element of fitness we often don’t consider till we find ourselves wallowing in our own emotional dregs), and social deprivation (one of the leading factors in early death of seniors.)
Covid makes us less healthy, less fit, and is simply a pain in the ass.
But I wanted to chime in to help you understand what’s going on and why, as if you have not read or heard it a million times. Still, this is the simple version: a new virus to which humans have not yet developed immunities has run rampant over the world and is pretty vicious when you get the full-borne symptoms of cough, fever, aches, and respiratory distress – which is how it kills.
Social isolation is not designed to stop the disease in its tracks; it’s designed to slow it down enough that the healthcare systems can ramp up enough to manage new covid patients as well as others who normally come in – heart attack, stroke, asthma, even broken bones, to name a few.
At some point, though, most of us will get exposed to it, some will fight it off with natural ability, some with new medications designed to bolster our ability to fight it off (think Tamiflu for traditional flus), and better treatments if you start to crash with it.
Social distancing is designed to keep us apart to slow the spread but is killing us in the process, and not just the economies of the world. Literally killing us.
There are few tips a fitness pro can offer beyond these draconian ones we hear on TV. But a few articles have come across the mainstream press that may help give you a sense of control over the circumstances and over your own health.
First, exercise may be of great biochemical assistance in boosting one’s immunity. According to Dr. Richard Simpson, “Each bout of exercise, particularly whole-body dynamic cardiorespiratory exercise, instantaneously mobilizes literally billions of immune cells, especially those cell types that are capable of carrying out effector functions such as the recognition and killing of virus-infected cells. . The immune cells that are mobilized with exercise are primed and ‘looking for a fight.’ Their frequent recirculation between the blood and tissues functions to increase host immune surveillance, which, in theory, makes us more resistant to infection and better equipped to deal with any infectious agent that has gained a foothold.”
Furthermore, “exercise is especially beneficial for older adults who are more susceptible to infection in general and have also been identified as a particularly vulnerable population during this COVID-19 outbreak.”
Second, proper diet, even including certain supplements, can help stave off disease or its severity. This strong and well-supported article in the lay literature defends the idea of mega-dosing vitamin C, Dr. Linus Pauling’s wonder supplement. Perhaps, if these authors are correct, this might be the one viral disease C is truly effective with.
Whereas there are many solid studies on C’s effectiveness against the common cold, there are others that conjecture its value may be greater in preventing coronaviruses from taking hold by storm. In particular, it may serve those who have to be put on respirators.
Then there’s this from researchers in Ireland who are proposing we boost our vitamin D intakes – by food and sun though supplementation would be necessary for the kinds of numbers they’re discussing – in order to boost our resistance to covid-19. They prescribe taking in as much as 50 micrograms of D which is 2000 IU (terms we use here in America.)
The hand washing bit is not overblown but the gloves-wearing bit sure is. Too many experts have had to counter one viral video by a doctor urging folks to shop with caution. But reason – which I have tried implementing here with clients – suggests it’s not what you shop in that protects you; it’s washing hands after you’ve shopped that matters.
Finally, there was sound advice offered in a WaPo article that reinforces many of the same elements that any health coach, fitness pro or even primary care doc would offer anyone trying to stay healthy:
“First, eat whole foods, which are dense with immunity boosting nutrients. Second, talk with other humans by phone or video. Third, sleep (ideally at the same time each night, more or less). Fourth, exercise at least 30 minutes a day. And finally, try to do something that keeps your brain resting in the present for a little while (whether it’s gardening, listening to music or meditating).”
These may not prevent you from getting covid, they may not minimize its impact let alone cure you if you do get it. But they are great ways to stay well before, during and after the scare.
Now get up, wash hands, and start walking. Stay strong.