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Science New Study Shows How Muscle Can Protect You From Covid-19 Severity

The lean muscle mass and strength you’re building may keep you out of a hospital bed.

Image of man doing a rotational strength movement to build muscle mass, which is associated with lower Covid-19 risk.
  • A recent study suggests the more muscle mass and strength you have, the better able you may be to weather severe illness from  Covid-19.
  • Regular resistance training gives you a reserve of protein that you can tap into when you need to take a break due to illness or injury.
  • Studies looking at grip strength and length of hospital stay support these findings in patients with COVID-19.
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The war with Covid-19 wages on, but it turns out that building muscle can help in the fight. A recent study shows the gains you make strength training can lead to less severe cases of the virus.  

In the study, published in the Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, researchers assessed the muscular strength and muscle mass of 186 patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19. They measured muscular strength with a handgrip test and mass by taking an ultrasound of the quadriceps muscle when the patients were admitted to the hospital and at discharge.

The results showed that the stronger you are, the less time you are likely to spend in a hospital bed. “Muscle is a reserve of stored protein in the form of amino acids so when you are stuck in bed due to illness or injury, your body turns over that protein to assist in healing other tissues,” says Hamilton Roschel, PhD, Head of the Applied Physiology and Nutrition Research Group at University of São Paulo and a lead researcher on the study. Roschel explains that depending on the time you’re out of commission, it can lead to serious muscle atrophy (when a muscle shrinks in size due to underuse). The more muscle you have to start with, the better prepared you are for an illness or injury that can set you back.

Pulled quote from text: “Muscle is a reserve of stored protein in the form of amino acids so when you are stuck in bed due to illness or injury, your body turns over that protein to assist in healing other tissues.” - Hamilton Roschel, PhD

While this study provided correlational evidence, meaning we can’t say muscle strength and mass caused a shorter hospital stay, other emerging research supports the findings. One larger study involving 3,600 older adults (over 65 years old), found that having low muscle strength alone was a risk factor for increased Covid-19 severity. 

The study’s researchers found grip strength is not only an indicator of physical fitness but also general health. Lower levels of strength are associated with a higher risk of morbidity and mortality, making you more vulnerable to adverse health outcomes in general. Including strength training in your routine is a long-term prevention tool that helps improve overall health, which includes an increased protection against viruses.


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