COVID15 and the power of exercise

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We’ve been discussing the unwanted weight gain that many Americans have experienced since the start of the pandemic. Unless it’s dealt with, it may be similar to weight gained over the holiday season where it’s not lost year after year.

In addition to changes at the plate, it’s only natural to discuss exercise when it comes to fighting the COVID15.

Part of COVID weight gain is related to people being more sedentary as they work from home, visit friends and families through a screen, and binge on Netflix every night. Gyms being closed and fear of being in crowded parks may also keep people inside. But regular physical activity should carry on if possible.

Diet VS Exercise

Scientists have long known that regular physical activity is necessary for long-term weight loss success and may impact body composition more than a diet. When compared to a hypocaloric diet, a meta-analysis showed that exercise alone resulted in visceral adiposity loss while caloric restriction did not. Visceral adiposity is an important predictor of morbidity and mortality, so the less you have, the better. Even without weight loss, exercise reduces visceral adiposity by over 6%. Although calorie reduction may result in a larger weight loss, more body fat is lost with exercise, which is likely more significant. 1

If people say they don’t have time to exercise, consider this. A recent study comparing overweight and obese sedentary women assigned to either a long bout (50 minutes all at once) or short bouts (two, 25-minute bouts) of exercise, found that the group doing short bouts had more weight loss. No changes in lipid or carbohydrate metabolism were seen after 24 weeks. 2 Two 25-minute walking sessions could be a walk at your lunch hour and after dinner.

Exercise and mental health

In addition to improving your waistline, it’s well known that exercise is good for our mental health. A large cross sectional study published in Lancet Psychiatry analyzed adults over the age of 18 and their “mental health burden” with or without exercise. Those who exercised reported fewer days of poor mental health with largest associations seen with team sports, cycling, aerobic and gym activities. 3

If exercising inside or outside concerns you due to the pandemic, a recent study showed that increased physical activity provides a reset of physical and mental well-being. It aids in distracting people from worrying and negative thoughts related to the pandemic. Activities such as playing tennis, golf, cycling or hiking can be done at a physical distance. 4   Masks are advised inside or outside when people cannot be distanced.

Just do it.

If you’re not convinced that exercise can help during this pandemic, remember that it also boosts immunity. Cardiorespiratory activity such as walking, biking, hiking, rowing and running helps mobilize millions of lymphocytes to fight COVID. It may also reduce the severity of the disease in some people. If you’ve had COVID already, talk with your doctor about resuming exercise.

Here are some ways to get your move on:

  1. Put on your shoes and walk out your front door. Go around your block a few times or drive to a park and hit some trails. Don’t forget the benefits of vitamin D, which also reduce the risk of COVID.
  2. Dust off your bike. Take advantage of the cooler weather this fall and go for a spin. Bike shortages have been experienced but you may find a bike at a used sports shop or thrift store.
  3. Try pickle ball. This sport from the 60’s is tennis meets ping pong. Set on a smaller court, you and a friend can be physically distanced, but social.
  4. Use some free weights during your favorite show. While you’re killing time watching Netflix, get some weights out and do some curls.
  5. Download exercise videos on your phone or tablet. If you’re strapped for cash or can’t get to your gym, get your move on at home. Apps like Sworkit, Imuscle Home, 7-minute workout and more are FREE!

You’ve got nothing to lose. Or do you?

Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Verheggen RJ, Maessen MF, Green DJ, Hermus AR, Hopman MT, Thijssen DH. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of exercise training versus hypocaloric diet: distinct effects on body weight and visceral adipose tissue. Obes Rev. 2016;17(8):664-690.
  2. Madjd A, Taylor MA, Delavari A, Malekzadeh R, Macdonald IA, Farshchi HR. Effect of a Long Bout Versus Short Bouts of Walking on Weight Loss During a Weight-Loss Diet: A Randomized Trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019;27(4):551-558.
  3. Chekroud SR, Gueorguieva R, Zheutlin AB, et al. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):739-746.
  4. Dominski FH, Brandt R. Do the benefits of exercise in indoor and outdoor environments during the COVID-19 pandemic outweigh the risks of infection? [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 17] [published correction appears in Sport Sci Health. 2020 Aug 17;:1]. Sport Sci Health. 2020;1-6.

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