Back to Fitness: COVID Isn’t Going Anywhere, So You Better Get in Shape!

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John Andersen

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Remember early March, when we thought we were just not going to shake hands for a while? That dang virus is still here, still spreading, and no matter what we do, it is going to keep spreading (although hopefully we can slow that spread!).

Also, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, people are getting pretty cranked these days. We are stressed out because it all seems out of control. There is so much we still don’t know about it, there is a pretty constant argument about the best policies surrounding it, and a vaccine seems forever away.  Add to this that dang presidential election and bam, people are cranked!

I can remember that when I was a kid I used to get really frustrated about all different types of things. I threw my fair share of temper tantrums well into my teenage years. But I also remember the advice that my mom would always tell me, which is one of those things that finally stuck and holds true for so many things in life: “There is no sense in getting so upset over something you have no control over. Focus on what you DO have control over.”  

So, said in my mom’s voice:

Do you personally have any control over the fact that coronavirus originated in China and became a global pandemic? No.

Do you personally have any control over the fact that despite scientists and researchers working at great speed, there is still no vaccine available to protect us all from getting coronavirus? No.

Do you personally have any control over the fact that much of our country is nervous and that many people disagree about the best ways to handle coronavirus? No.

Do you personally have any control over how at risk you are for getting coronavirus, or if you do contract coronavirus, how sick you may become? Absolutely!

Back in March, I wrote a column titled “Can exercise prevent coronavirus?” The point was that for decades there has been science showing how regular exercise indeed not only lowers our risk for catching colds and respiratory viruses, but also lowers the severity of clinical signs and shortens the course. There are some solid studies that demonstrate this, but, also, it just makes common sense.  The healthier you are, the healthier you are!

This general point needs repeating, as we now find ourselves staring at the likelihood that coronavirus will hang around for a few years at least. But we are also learning about some of the serious coronavirus effects, especially acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).  

Well, to just add onto the studies I mentioned in the March column, did you catch the press releases about the UVA researcher who showed that regular exercise will likely lower your risk for developing ARDS from coronavirus?  Dr. Zhen Yan, a Ph.D. from the UVA School of Medicine makes a strong case that regular exercise can prevent or significantly reduce your chances of getting ARDS.  Just do an online search with Dr. Yan’s name and coronavirus and read for yourself.

The purpose of this month’s column is not to repeat the facts of these published articles. Look them up yourself and make up your own mind.  My purpose for this column is that if you are not currently exercising, and especially if you find yourself with health problems and for other reasons in a “higher risk” group regarding coronavirus, what is the one thing you can control? Can you guess where I’m going with this?

Here’s a little wake up call. We live in a very, very easy world. You don’t really have to be in any sort of good physical fitness to live a long and happy and productive life. Or…do you? Maybe something like a microscopic virus can finally convince us that we need to think outside of the comfortable box that society has these days.

The last piece of this is that exercise is also one of the best therapies for our mental health. We are all under a lot more stress these days; nobody is unaffected by COVID. So, it is more important than ever to make sure you are taking care of your mind. And can you guess what one of the safest, cheapest, and most effective methods is? Exercise!

If there is one thing that Michelle and I have conveyed—we hope–through our time at Crozet Running, it’s that exercise doesn’t have to look like what you think it should look like. Do you have to be thin and wear tight clothing and expensive shoes and stupid beepy watches? Heck no! Do you have to go to the gym and be around other people? No! Is it going to be easy? Heck no! Are you going to want to quit, repeatedly? Yeah! Will it be rewarding? Yes! Will it work? Heck yeah!

Where to start? How about walking? We can all do that. I’m not saying it’s going to be fun or feel good, and if it’s not something you’ve been doing much, it may hurt. But it’s simple and you don’t need much except a routine. May I suggest 4 days a week? Schedule it!  Maybe you’re just starting with 15 minutes and maybe you’re walking very, very slowly. Who cares? It’s a start and you gotta start somewhere. Now what if you add just 5 minutes to that time each week. Well, in about 2 months you’d be walking for an hour, 4 days a week. Are you doing that now? Maybe you haven’t lost any weight, maybe you’ve got a lot of other things you can fix, but it’s a start and you’ve got to start somewhere.  

Coronavirus has shown us, unfortunately, that it’s time to stop with the excuses and start taking your health seriously. This is in your control—nobody else’s—and you can do it! 

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