COVID-19's seemingly inexorable march across the country has many Americans feeling helpless and hopeless. In surveys conducted by the Census Bureau from June 18-23, 48% of respondents reported they felt "down, depressed or hopeless."
No wonder. For months we've been bombarded nonstop with news stories of rising case numbers and public service announcements admonishing us about masks, hand-washing and social distancing. It would be easy to conclude that all we can do is hunker down and pray that the coronavirus dies out before we do.
But that would be the wrong conclusion.
One of Hollywood's favorite scenarios presents us with a handful of good guys, cut off from any prospect of outside relief, bracing for an imminent attack from a sinister and merciless horde. "The Magnificent Seven" is a classic of this genre. In it, a gang of outlaws led by the bandit Calvera (played convincingly by Eli Wallach in the 1960 version) is coming to terrorize a small Mexican village. Knowing they are badly outgunned, the frightened townspeople feel the situation is hopeless.
That changes when seven outsiders (led by Yul Brynner as gunslinger Chris Adams) rally the citizens, train them to shoot and proceed to set traps and arrange other unpleasant surprises for the bad guys. When the outlaws arrive, they are shocked by the stout defenses. In the end, the good villagers, together with the "Seven," triumph and the gang is vanquished.
So what does that have to do with our current predicament? The CDC reports that the most adverse effects of COVID are largely concentrated among the elderly and those who suffer from some chronic medical conditions. We can't do anything about our age, but, just like the villagers in "The Magnificent Seven," we can still fight back.
CDC case tracking shows that among those hospitalized for COVID, 54% were already suffering from hypertension, 49% were obese and 32% had cardiovascular disease. Each of these conditions places a person at greater risk of hospitalization from COVID. Fortunately there are steps individuals can take to ameliorate these preexisting conditions.
The Mayo Clinic has found that for those suffering from hypertension, becoming just moderately active can reduce their top number of blood pressure by 4 to 9 mmHg — an improvement that rivals that provided by some medicines.
Even if you don't suffer from hypertension, obesity or cardiovascular disease, exercise can boost your odds against COVID. Just moderate exercise has been proven to dramatically improve the effectiveness of the body's immune system in dealing with disease, and that includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Unfortunately preliminary data suggest that, in this crisis, Americans are not getting more exercise. Time reports that 3,000 adults who had been meeting exercise guidelines before the pandemic, reported their physical activity had declined by an average of 32%. And those not meeting the guidelines pre-COVID were still not meeting them.
Other studies suggest the drop-off in exercising has been most pronounced among those living in urban areas. Those in rural areas generally kept the same or even in some cases increased their levels.
That makes sense. In cities where gyms have closed and sidewalks are narrow, it's harder to get exercise. But not impossible. Each morning my 70ish neighbor rises before dawn and sets off on a brisk 3-mile walk. If she can, why not us?
Experts report the risk of catching COVID while outside is lower than being inside. Outside walking, running, yoga and body weight exercises are all activities which, done correctly, can be safe and contribute to a healthier, more resilient posture for COVID. Parents, mentors and others in positions of influence should consider encouraging those they care about to exercise and stay active.
Even before COVID arrived at our doorstep, America was already facing a public health crisis. Our country leads the world in obesity, with 42.4% of adults considered obese. But working together, this problem can be solved.
Just like the good citizens of that small Mexican village, you too can choose to not sit back and await the seemingly inevitable. You can take matters into your own hands and prepare to fight this unsavory bandit, the unwelcome coronavirus, when it arrives at your "village." And if nothing else, you have a recommendation for a film to stream during your post-exercise recovery time.
A retired Army Lieutenant General, Thomas W. Spoehr is director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense.
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