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What astronauts can tell us about COVID-19

Today I want to share a very informative post written by my friend and colleague Mike Deibler, who owns the gym San Diego Premier Training in Carlsbad. With all the fear, misinformation and mystery surrounding Covid-19, Mike sheds some important light on things you can do to reduce your risk factors for this virus.

What Astronauts Can Tell Us About Our Immunity

We will probably not understand COVID-19 until years from now when we can see the full picture, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be paying attention to research that is coming out about the virus itself or other viruses that may act similar on the body.   I recently read a new research article that sheds some interesting light that we all should be aware of.  They looked at astranauts and the immune system to give us more information about our current situation, but more on that in a bit. If you have been reading my previous newsletters or maybe following the news, you are probably aware of the importance of Vitamin D and severity of COVID-19 symptoms.  A few studies have demonstrated that those who have either died or have more severe symptoms tend to have lower Vitamin D status. This article talked about this situation but also includes some really interesting facts that we should pay attention to.  When you look at the deaths globally, it is interesting to see that countries closer to the equator seem to have lower numbers.   It was thought that warmer weather was the reason behind this, but it could be more related to vitamin D which we get from sunlight exposure.  When you follow the trends in Vitamin D deficiency, countries closer to the equator have less deficiencies as well.   It is estimated that 1 billion people world wide have a Vitamin D deficiency.  This is not good news for many.  Another issue is that aging affects the skins ability to create Vitamin D.  So if you are older and do not get outside in the sun, it is time to pay more attention to this.   Other than age (which increases risk of deficiency by 61%) and where you live affecting your D status, there are a few other things to consider.  Darker skin leads to an increase in 40% risk of deficiency.  Those who are obese are at 35% higher risk for deficiency.  And nursing home and hospital patients are at a 50% higher risk.   When you look at those struggling the most with this virus we see some similarities.  And when we look at other viruses we see how important Vitamin D is for our immunity.  This includes things like influenza, hepatitis B and C, HIV, rotavirus and acute respiratory infections.   Now back to the astronauts.  It is still unknown if once you recovery from the SARS-2 infection if you can get it again.  Many viruses, like EBV and VZV, may persist in the body due to slower clearance and then reactivate.   Using studies in astranauts that have given insight on who might be effected more by the reactivation.  Here is what they found in this study that resulted in higher levels of recovery, less symptoms, and less likely to reactivate.  

  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness Levels

  • Skeletal Muscle Endurance

  • Stress

  • Stress combined with Vitamin D Status

Those that had higher levels of fitness had a 29% less risk in virus reactivation.  Those that had high levels of upper body muscular endurance had a 40% less risk.  Those that had higher cortisol levels (a stress hormone) and lower D levels had a higher risk of reactivation.   So I am sure my message is redundant, but until I hear others talking about this I will continue to make this point.  Washing hands and wearing masks can help, but they are incredibly reactive tools that will not help us long term.  If you aren't looking at your fitness and nutritional status you just aren't paying attention and aren't ready to get past this.   So the answer.  Pay attention to your fitness and exercise levels.  The minimum amount is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to receive cardiorespiratory benefits.  On top of that you need 2-3 days per week of resistance training hitting all major muscle groups.  And finally make sure you aren't deficient in any vitamins and minerals, especially D.   Sunlight is the best way to get your Vitamin D levels up, but food and supplements will help.  Two interesting points were made in this study.   First, supplementation was not as effective in raising D levels in those that had a higher body mass index.  Just another reason to get your weight down if you have a BMI of over 25.  And second, more is not better.  There are negative side effects of too much D such as bone pain, calcium stones, and kidney problems.   While many start dieting and exercising for aesthetic reasons, my hope is that more are realizing that there are bigger priorities.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to look better and feel better, but if we truly want to thrive in a situation like this, we need to have our bodies primed to fight off anything that comes our way.  

Mike Deibler MS, CSCS, SGX

San Diego Premier Training

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