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Exercise and healthy eating can maintain the body’s immune system and reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But diet and exercise alone don’t stop people from contracting COVID-19.
Public health authorities say masking, social distancing and vaccination are the best ways to guard against COVID-19 infection.
More than 16 months after the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, and after more than 600,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States, a widely shared social media post declares that preventing the disease is actually quite simple.
"The best way to avoid COVID altogether is to exercise, eat healthy and let your immune system beat it naturally," claims the Instagram post, which calls getting a vaccination instead "lazy."
It’s not clear what the post means by "let your immune system beat it naturally," but there is evidence that good nutrition and exercise can reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 illness. Nevertheless, diet and exercise alone are not enough to prevent contracting the virus — nor are they "the best way" to avoid it, according to experts.
"Relying on pull-ups and jogging and sit-ups, and avoiding heavy-fat meals and eating a balanced diet, is very good for your general health but we do need additional assistance to ward off germs that can make us very, very sick, and COVID is one of them," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
"Healthy living is a good thing, but it is not sufficient," he said. "Your immune system has to be trained specifically to fight off the COVID virus. That’s what the vaccines do."
Schaffner also said that over 95% of people now hospitalized in the United States for COVID-19 are unvaccinated young adults and adolescents, and children.
Dr. Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said that among people "eating a typical Western diet, which would not have deficiencies in protein and vitamins, "exercise and healthy eating, although essential for good health in general, don't specifically ameliorate risk of COVID. An individual's risk of getting COVID is related to crowded spaces, particularly poorly ventilated indoor spaces; refusal to vaccinate; and refusal to wear masks."
Vaccines are important because they trigger an immune response that protects against COVID-19, Schleiss added.
University researchers in California, in a study published in April, reviewed 48,440 patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis from January to October 2020. They found that "consistently meeting physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with a reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes."
But reducing the risk of severe illness is not the same as "avoiding COVID altogether."
An Instagram post said "The best way to avoid COVID altogether is to exercise, eat healthy and let your immune system beat it naturally."
Exercise and healthy eating can maintain the body’s immune system and reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19. But diet and exercise alone don’t stop people from contracting COVID-19. The best ways to avoid getting the virus is to get vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distance.
We rate the post Mostly False.
Instagram post, July 31, 2021
USA Today, "Fact check: Low body fat, healthy lifestyle do not prevent COVID-19," July 30, 2020
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "How to Protect Yourself & Others," July 26, 2021
Mayo Clinic, Coronavirus: "What is it and how can I protect myself?", July 29, 2021
Harvard Health Publishing, "Preventing the spread of the coronavirus," July 29, 2021
PolitiFact, "‘Youth is not invincible’: 9 experts dispute Joe Rogan’s vaccine advice for healthy 21-year-olds," April 28, 2021
Journal of Public Health, "Relationship between physical activity, healthy lifestyle and COVID-19 disease severity; a cross-sectional study," Feb. 4, 2021
University of Maryland Medical System, "Boost the Immune System," accessed Aug. 2, 2021
British Journal of Sports Medicine, "Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48 440 adult patients," April 13, 2021
Email, Dr. Mark Schleiss, professor of pediatrics and faculty member of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Aug. 3, 2021
Interview, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Aug. 3, 2021
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