For years now, you have heard us say over and over again that it is important for everyone to engage in regular exercise.
This has never been more true than it is now….Especially in the midst of this world-wide pandemic.
A recent study published by the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that regular exercise was connected to a reduced risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in patients with COVID-19.
The mechanism underlying this protection against severe respiratory disease lies in the production of a specific antioxidant, known as extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD).
Here’s how it works…Antioxidants protect our body from the harmful effects of free radicals. Although our muscles naturally make EcSOD, its production is enhanced by endurance exercise.
Conversely, lower levels of EcSOD are associated with a host of chronic diseases, including heart disease, kidney failure, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis, and….you guessed it, cancer!
Specifically, as it relates to cancer, lower levels of EcSOD have been observed in patients who experience cardiotoxicity as a result of their chemotherapy treatment. Basically, the free radical build up caused by chemotherapy can have a very harmful effect on the heart – causing it to have a reduced pumping capacity, and in extreme situations, heart failure.
On the other hand, elevated levels of EcSOD have a protective effect on our heart and lungs. This is one reason why exercise appears to attenuate treatment-related cardiotoxicity in cancer. It also appears to be the reason behind the protection against severe respiratory disease in COVID-19 patients.
In other words, one antioxidant causes protective mechanisms in both cancer and the Coronavirus!
The key to elevating the levels of this antioxidant?
Research suggests that even one bout of exercise increases production of EcSOD!
Here is the full circle moment for me…Many, many years ago, when I was a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, I actually measured this exact mechanism!
First, let me start by saying that this study was conducted before I was a vegan! This was back when I spent my days in a dark research lab exercising rats on treadmills…And I loved every minute of it!
For this particular study, I took a group of previously sedentary rats and had them run on a treadmill for one hour. Twenty-four hours later, I gave these rats a bolus dose of chemotherapy. I also gave the same exact dose to rats who did not participate in the exercise bout. Five days later, I compared the heart function and level of antioxidants found in the hearts of the animals in both groups.
My findings affirmed the statement above – one single bout of exercise produced significantly higher levels of EcSOD. As a result, the animals who exercised had a measured cardiac function that was significantly better than the sedentary animals.
This was the study that made me so passionate about the field of exercise oncology. I also won a pretty cool research award for it, which was an added bonus!
Physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week.
Accomplishing this is easier than you might think! If you are unable to leave your house, you can accomplish this by walking around the inside of your house, climbing stairs, dancing to your favorite song, or joining us for one of our live workouts! Outside, you can walk around your neighborhood, go for a bike ride, or do lawn work.
Exercise is Medicine – both for cancer survivors and those who battle COVID-19!