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Fleeing COVID

Anchorage cyclist Bill Fleming far from COVID-19 in the heart of the Alaska Range/Craig Medred photo

Can you run, walk, pedal, swim, snowshoe, ski or otherwise run away from the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus?

A new study doesn’t promise that you can, but it does indicate you can cut your odds of severe disease or death by more than half by “consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.”

While local, state and federal officials in the U.S. were in a tizzy to get Americans masked up in the pandemic frenzy of a year ago, the study also notes, they appear to have somehow overlooked the idea of pushing simple changes in lifestyles that might have saved a whole lot of lives.

That conclusion come from an examination of the records of 4.7 million residents of Southern California who use 15 medical centers run by Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

After looking at the medical files of almost 50,000 of them who both contracted COVID-19 and had at least two years of “exercise vital sign” data in their files, the researchers wrote that “it is notable that being consistently inactive was a stronger risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) except for age and a history of organ transplant.

“In fact, physical inactivity was the strongest risk factor across all outcomes, compared with the commonly cited modifiable risk factors, including smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” the study said.

Simple translation?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 is a greater threat to couch potatoes than to smokers, fat people, diabetics, heart patients, cancer sufferers or those with high blood pressure.

Government failure?

“This evidence that physical inactivity is a strong modifiable risk factor for severe COVID-19 contrasts with the limited efforts by U.S. public health authorities to educate the population about the benefits of physical activity (PA) related to adverse COVID-19 outcomes or to systematically promote regular PA during the pandemic,” the researchers added.

Their peer-reviewed study was published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this week.

Meanwhile, other studies are pointing to indications physical activity has actually gone down during the pandemic.

The Kaiser Pementante researchers appear to be the first to point out the failure of health authorities at all levels of government to promote exercise as protective against COVID-19 though that was pretty clearly the case almost from the beginning of the pandemic.

Professional cyclist Fernando Gravira caught the disease in March of 2019, returned to racing in the summer, won a race in July, was reinfected in the fall, again recovered, and was back in the heat of the action before crashing and breaking his wrist about three weeks ago. 

A variety of other professional athletes have caught COVID-19 since Gavira was infected and have recovered with no obvious problems.

Meanwhile, the overall global data on serious infections and deaths has only accumulated to support the early conclusion that so-called “comorbidities” – chronic diseases with which they were living before SARS-CoV-2 – play a key role in the pandemic.

Many of these diseases – heart disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity and more – have been linked to what has come to be called the “sedentary lifestyle.”

The respected British medical journal “The Lancet” in October said the data “reveal (a) perfect storm of rising chronic diseases and public health failures fuelling COVID-19 pandemic.”

The issue has been written about here repeatedly and mentioned in any number of other publications, but it has gained little traction.

Elected officials have appeared far more willing to push masking than tell their constituents they need to get up, get out of the house and exercise.

In many communities, there seems little or no interest in building better networks of walkways and bike trails/routes that would encourage people to exercise as a way to get between home and office, or home and shopping, or simply to visit friends and neighbors.

Anchorage cycling activist Marc Grober regularly complains the local municipality has little interest in getting people moving in any way other than via motor vehicles. The muni doesn’t appear to care.

5 replies »

  1. I know, right? Sedentary life style, Vit D deficiency, and co-morbidities are a risk, yet we are told to sit tight inside the houses, not move, not see the daylight. How appropriate. Thanks for pointing the obvious data, don’t you wish it’d be shared with the public?

    • Well reported Mr. Medred ! Strong messaging about exercise + Bike/ ski / run /walk paths routes to work and beyond – city to city ,without risking life and limb . Helps Solve global warming issues , traffic, air pollution, health, covid and more . If the president wants to be a mandater he should mandate safe pedestrian paths always be built in conjunction with every road . Like you said – officials seem to care very little. It’s almost like politicians are stuck in 1960 .

    • Olgav,
      Interesting perspective, but pretty sure thats not what we heard in the Valley.I can assure you there were many many peeps out hiking in the summer.Granted we awkwardly tried to distance ourselves on narrow trails, but to a person Id say we knew it was safer and of course saner out in the fresh air.
      In fact the Matsu borough took the perspective and posted that all trails are OPEN, get fresh air, be smart dont breath bad things.
      Skiiers were legion this year in the hatcher pass area,both nordic and back country.No longer is the area a local secret(even among locals) for full moon skies/snowboarding.
      Its been a very rare thing to see another person during a full moon ski in the previous18 yrs skiing the area!
      LOTS more back country ski people presumably from Anch,sometimes doing things in places they shouldn’t be doing things, or traversing/ascending in places and ways not recommended.
      But thats the way experience works, you do things, till your persuaded not to.
      Regardless,we got out, got air,got right with the world,(well as best we could).

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