Why exercise is vital for Long COVID recovery

Long COVID isn’t just more common than previously thought, with estimates ranging from 15 to 80 percent of those infected, it also lasts longer.

It’s an issue that has been linked to full-body inflammation that can result in micro-clots developing throughout blood vessels, joint and muscle pain, diabetes, depression — and who knows what else, since the aftermath of the pandemic is still unfolding.

It’s also hard to know who will develop long COVID. There seem to be no hard and fast rules, including severity of infection.

“For example, a person may not get very sick from COVID-19, but six months later, long after the cough or fever is gone, they develop diabetes,’ says Candace Rebello, Ph.D., a research scientist studying the problem of Long COVID at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

And sadly, there’s currently no recognized treatment to prevent long COVID from happening.

But researchers have found that the secret to defeating diabetes and depression linked to COVID inflammation could be as simple as exercise…

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Dousing the fires of inflammation

The reason exercise appears to help is its ability to bring the elevated levels of inflammation experienced with COVID back under control — which is exactly what led the Pennington researchers to focus on it in the first place.

You see, inflammation has already been shown to play a role in the development of diabetes. It’s also been linked to depressive symptoms. In fact, previous studies show that clinical depression is associated with a 30 percent increase in inflammation in the brain.

Yet, exercise has been found to render pro-inflammatory molecules powerless to douse the fires that lead to progressively worse symptoms.

And that’s exactly what the researchers found it can do in the case of Long COVID.

“We know that Long COVID causes depression, and we know that it can increase blood glucose levels to the point where people develop diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition common among people with type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Rebello. “Exercise can help. Exercise takes care of the inflammation that leads to elevated blood glucose and the development and progression of diabetes and clinical depression.”

These findings were echoed by said Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, Ph.D. who says, “We know that physical activity is a key component to a healthy life.  This research shows that exercise can be used to break the chain reaction of inflammation that leads to high blood sugar levels, and then to the development or progression of type 2 diabetes.”

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Start slow and work your way up

So if you’re living with the symptoms of Long COVID, including depression and diabetes, or you’ve had COVID and want to avoid problems down the road, staying active could be the answer you’ve been looking for.

And there’s more good news…

“You don’t have to run a mile or even walk a mile at a brisk pace,” Dr. Rebello said.  “Walking slowly is also exercising.  Ideally, you would do a 30-minute session of exercise. But if you can only do 15 minutes at a time, try to do two 15-minute sessions. If you can only walk 15 minutes once a day, do that. The important thing is to try. It doesn’t matter where you begin.  You can gradually build up to the recommended level of exercise.”

However, if you’re a woman dealing with long COVID, you may need extra help regaining your activity levels, according to the Mayo Clinic. If that’s the case reach out to your doctor for a possible referral for physical therapy.

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Exercise May Treat Long COVID-induced Diabetes, Depression — Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.