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Exercise, the Best Ally Against Prolonged COVID

A recent study ensures that exercise can help reduce the effects of long-lasting COVID-19, one of the mysteries of the pandemic.

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LatinAmerican Post | Luis Ángel Hernández Liborio

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Leer en español: El ejercicio, el mejor aliado contra el COVID prolongado

The SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it produces have been living with us for just over two years. However, we still do not know enough to be calm and every day some discovery is presented. One of the mysteries that COVID-19 still keeps is the one referring to the so-called long-term COVID, it is not known for sure what produces it, nor is there a cure. For now, though, exercise may be the best available treatment for the disease, according to a recent study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

What is long-term COVID?

To understand the importance of the study, it is essential to understand what is called long-term COVID, prolonged COVID, or even Post-COVID Syndrome. According to the World Health Organization, this illness occurs approximately three months after the original infection, regardless of whether the illness was mild or complicated. The symptoms range from the feeling of fatigue and shortness of breath to affectations in the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous and even psychological systems, according to information from the UN agency. These are long-term effects. Muscle pain and cognitive problems that can last for months also stand out among the symptoms.

It is relevant because it almost completely disrupts the patient's life. However, the diagnosis is still imprecise and inconclusive due to the lack of a specific test beyond the original suffering from COVID-19. According to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, between 30 and 40% of people who had COVID-19 developed anxiety and depression, that is, one out of three people. The quality of life decreases notably, since it prevents him from carrying out his daily activities, especially those related to work, in addition to the psychological effect that the disease has had. Depression and stress are possibly the most common adverse effects of prolonged COVID. They also make the patient prone to developing diabetes, among other ailments. Finally, at an economic and social level, prolonged treatment is costly for patients and health services.

Exercise, the best treatment available

The study in question was conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was led by Dr. Candida Rebello and is entitled: "Exercise as a moderator of persistent neuroendocrine symptoms of COVID-19". In it, physical activity is highlighted as the best treatment currently available to treat long-term COVID to prevent diseases such as depression and diabetes. Exercise helps regulate blood glucose levels and produces endorphins, which are essential to counteract depression, anxiety and stress.

Diabetes as a result of having suffered from COVID-19 is a reality, Dr. Rebello affirms that it is a silent disease that can manifest itself up to 6 months after having suffered from COVID, even if the symptoms were mild. Therefore, to regulate glucose levels, physical activity is recommended. Dr. Rebello recommends the commonly expected 30 minutes of exercise, but, according to the specialist, they can be divided into two short daily sessions, the important thing is to ensure physical activity. In addition, the anti-inflammatory effects that come with exercise would help at the pulmonary level, especially to stop the feeling of shortness of breath and fatigue.

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How is prolonged COVID diagnosed?

Despite the importance of the study, there is still a lack of medical literature that deepens the understanding of prolonged COVID. Until now, it continues to be a disease in which the patient has doubts about his/her condition because there is no test that determines it accurately. So it depends on your doctor and his/her professional diagnosis.

It is relevant to consider that there are risk factors that predispose people to suffer from this type of prolonged COVID, these are: suffering from diabetes or having a family history, as well as the reactivation of a past Epstein-Barr virus infection (also known as “the kissing disease"). These risk factors can be treated with exercise for prevention and treatment after experiencing the effects of COVID-19. The benefits of exercise by themselves are varied, including cardiovascular health, improved mood, motivation, lung and nervous system health. Finally, vaccination also reduces the chances of developing long-term COVID, yet another reason to go get vaccinated, in addition to physical activity according to our age.