Exercise May Protect Against Deadly Effects of COVID-19


While there is no strong evidence that it prevents people from getting COVID-19, exercise may help to limit the risk of fatal coronavirus complications.

More research is needed, but regular moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise appears to assist in building up our immune systems, thus leading to a more robust fight against COVID-19.

Some 3 to 17 percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 management could develop a deadly case of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), also known as respiratory distress, according to a study by Zhen Yan, director of research at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. This complication often leads to patients being put on a ventilator, a machine that assists with breathing and supplies oxygen to the body.

Regular exercise could limit the severity of ARDS or even prevent it altogether by increasing the immune system’s ability to combat illness. Yan found that during cardiovascular exercise, our skeletal muscle boosts production of an antioxidant — extracellular superoxide dismutase — that is efficient in preventing disease.

Meanwhile, information from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) further suggests the importance of regular cardiovascular exercise.

ACSM has found that our bodies produce immune boosts by mobilizing millions of cells during whole-body cardio exercises. As blood circulates, it carries these boosts throughout our organs, where the immune cells look for foreign, potentially infection-carrying cells to fight.

“Traffic controller” cells, called cytokines, also are activated by even moderate cardiovascular exercise. These cells tell antioxidants where to go and what to fight.

The ACSM recommends:

  • 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous cardiovascular activities
  • Completing these activities in a physically distanced environment
  • Performing proper sanitization and social distancing measures during exercise to limit risk of exposure

PT can help you achieve exercise goals in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Performing a movement assessment to optimize your exercise experience
  • Educating you on proper exercise form to accommodate other conditions you may have, such as arthritis, pain, fibromyalgia.
  • Creating a personalized exercise plan that accounts for your goals
  • Reviewing your current exercise plan with the potential to make modifications that will optimize it
  • Addressing pain that is keeping you from full participation in your daily routine


  1. Barney, Josh. “Exercise May Protect against Deadly Covid-19 Complication, Research Suggests.” UVA Today, 21 Dec. 2021, news.virginia.edu/content/exercise-may-protect-against-deadly-covid-19-complication-research-suggests.
  2. ACSM Blog.” ACSM_CMS, www.acsm.org/blog-detail/acsm-blog/2020/03/30/exercise-immunity-covid-19-pandemic. Accessed 27 July 2023.


Written by Hannah Bohl, PT, DPT, OCS, Centerton AR Center

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