After the discovery that physical fitness greatly improves the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines, South African doctors are saying exercise “should be encouraged by greater public health messaging.”
Good luck with that.
The value of fundamental, physiological fitness in helping ward off the Covid-19 consequences of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been known since shortly after the pandemic madness began, but few seem to have paid it much attention.
The plague of the modern era was barely a year old when researchers in the United Kingdom, drawing on the medical records of more than 400,000 people in that country’s Biobank, reported “slow walkers” were nearly two-and-a-half times more like to be stricken with severe Covid-19 than “brisk walkers” and nearly four times more likely to die.
Walking pace is a simple and fundamental measure of fitness. The study found that even overweight fast walkers had better odds of beating Covid-19 than slow walkers.
A later meta-analysis of a variety of studies of fitness published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that regular exercise could lower the risk of Covid-19 death by 43 percent and the risk of severe illness by 44 percent.
And fitness isn’t just about Covid-19, though you would think that might be the medical problem getting the most attention now.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine kicked this year off with a research letter estimating that “approximately 110, 000 deaths per year could be prevented if US adults aged 40 to 85 years or older increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) by…(approximately) 10 minutes per day.”
Declining fitness has been a growing health problem in the U.S. for decades, but doctors, by and large, aren’t in the low-budget fitness business; they are in the high-earning business of providing surgeries and selling drugs as has been made plainly obvious by their pushing of vaccinations as the be-all to end-all for Covid-19.
Vaccinations do help. There is little doubt about that.
According to the results of the peer-reviewed study out of South Africa newly published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, vaccination with the Johnson&Johnson vaccine cut the risks of a couch potato being hospitalized by about 60 percent.
But that rose to more than 72.1 percent for the “moderate activity group” among the South Africans studied and reached “85.8 percent for the high activity group,” the study reported.
“Compared with individuals with low activity levels, vaccinated individuals with moderate and high activity levels had a 1.4 and 2.8 times lower risk of COVID-19 admission, respectively.”
Fat and lazy
One would think all of this news about the health dangers of being unfit might spark a new fitness boom, but there is little sign of that.
But that’s still down almost 9 percent from 2019. If revenues reach the projection this year, they will still fall short of where the industry was in 2016.
And there is no indication that this is because gym use has been taken over by anything like the U.S. “running boom” of the 1970s when the streets flooded with joggers.
Statista’s data indicates the flatline of U.S. runners and joggers was little changed by the pandemic. The number of participants has stayed between 47 million and 54 million since 2010 and was reported at 49 million last year.
As for bicyclists, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported deaths in accidents are going up, but the number of riders appears in many places to be going down.
The Guardian in September reported on U.S. cyclists abandoning the streets out of fear. “…It is too dangerous and there is too much road rage,” Gretchen Elsner, a long-haul truck driver from Athens, Ga., told the publication.
Anecdotally, having spent the summer in Alaska’s largest city using a bike as a
With damn few people using muscle power to get from A to B, motor vehicle traffic is worse than ever and more dangerous. Red light running seems to have become almost a norm in the city.
The Brits, which were already trying hard to go green before the pandemic hit, have tried to build out infrastructure and promote “active travel” to get people up, moving and healthier in the United Kingdom.
It has been facing some of the same blowback one might expect here. Conservatives blast it as cyclists getting in the way of motorists (and never you mind the savings for the country’s public-health system), and liberals wink and nod and express their support while regularly treating cyclists as people just getting in the way of their cars.
And so it is vaccines to the rescue.
Better living through chemistry
The vaccines are nice. They’re saving lives, especially among the biologically old and the co-morbid – those we used to say were suffering from chronic illnesses.
But let’s face it, they are little more than another band-aid on a gushing wound. The U.S. is among world leaders in per capita Covid-19 deaths for a reason.
It was a knockout punch in a fight the U.S. has been losing for years. The country doesn’t need another Make America Great Again campaign. It needs a Make America Healthy Again campaign.
Fitness has declined so badly in the country the military increasingly worries about being able to recruit enough young men and women to adequately defend the country. It this summer went so far as to reduce physical standards to try to ease its recruitment problem.
“An estimated 71 percent of young Americans are unfit for military service, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The major reasons are obesity, education deficits, criminal records and drug use.”
You probably didn’t read much about it. The country’s mainstream media doesn’t like to cover slow-moving trainwrecks; it’s into hot-button issues like Covid-19, and if they fuel the country’s cultural war all the better.
Besides, with “body positivity,” “fat acceptance,” “fat liberation” – call it what you want – in the “social justice” playbook, it’s hard to find a way to write about the country’s obesity epidemic without stating the obvious:
Americans, in general, eat too much and exercise too little. The takeaways from that CDC handout:
- More than one in three Americans aged 17 to 24 is too heavy to qualify to serve in the military, and that’s the good news.
- Only three in four of the two-thirds who meet weight requirements are getting enough exercise to prepare them for basic training.
- Of those already in the service, almost 20 percent are now obese, up from 16 percent in 2015.
- A study of service injuries found those overweight soldiers 33 percent more likely to suffer musculoskeletal injuries that put them out of action.
- The Department of Defense, the nation’s largest single employer, now “spends about $1.5 billion annually in obesity-related healthcare costs for current and former service members and their families, as well as costs to replace unfit personnel.”
And the future doesn’t look promising.
Dr. Sandra G. Hassink, writing in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics four years ago, described childhood obesity as an “unrelenting epidemic” even before pandemic-related lockdowns made things worse – much, much worse.
In the U.S. specifically, a study published in Preventative Medicine Reports said that the meager, 16 percent of children ages 10 to 14 who were meeting daily recommendations for moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity before the pandemic fell to less than 9 percent.
The lack of exercise isn’t all there is to the nation’s epidemic of childhood obesity, but it is without doubt a part of the problem. Researchers at Arizona State University and Rutgers University in April reported that only about 11 percent of U.S. kids now walk, bike, skateboard or otherwise get to school under their own power at least one day per week.
And they noted the abandonment of human-powered travel in the elementary grades fuels a downward cycle of inactivity that continues through the teen years and into the adult years.
“Behaviors, healthy as well as unhealthy, are strongly resistant to change, and thus, tend to persist over time, creating a high degree of predictability,” they wrote. “Children in this study had over seven times higher odds of practicing ACS at time two if they actively commuted at time one, controlling for all other factors, including distance to school.”
“Other health behaviors also persist over time in children,” the added, and went on to cite other studies finding that:
- Infant dietary patterns predict continuing dietary patterns up to eight years of age.
- Lifestyle behaviors such as outdoor time and television viewing, as well as physical activity and sedentary time, appear to persist throughout various stages of childhood.
- Childhood patterns of physical activity “predicted physical activity in adults up to 21 years later.”
The behaviors that have been reinforced in the U.S. for decades now are “get in the car” and “look at this screen to entertain yourself.”
One result clearly appears to be the toll Americans have been paying during the pandemic. At this writing, the Worldometer Covid-19 tracker puts the cumulative U.S. death rate at 3,268 per million.
We have now topped Italy, the oldest country in Europe with almost one out of every four residents age 65 or older, and most other European countries.
Sweden – lambasted by former President Donald Trump for taking what too laidback an approach to dealing with the pandemic (one of the few things he and Congressional Progressives ever agreed upon) – now has a death rate 61 percent of ours.
Obesity and fitness are not specifically linked. There are overweight and obese people who meet fitness standards and many underweight people (who also died in disproportionate numbers during the pandemic) who don’t.
But, in general, obesity rates reflect fitness because most obese people are not fit. Researchers have concluded that about one in 10 Americans could qualify as “fit and fat” or, put another way, about 90 percent of the fat people in the country are unfit.
Given that 30 percent or more of the residents of 41 states, including Alaska, were this year reported to be obese, it really seems time for someone to do something to Make America Healthy Again.
Maybe if there was a vaccine for that….