It’s Time to Start Promoting Health – Op-Ed From UNC Charlotte Professor

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We’re nearly two years into the covid-19 pandemic, and the defensive measures of mask-wearing, social distancing, and vaccines have been established. Unfortunately, cases are on the rise in some areas and the threat of new variants looms. A quick ending does not seem to be in the cards. It’s high time for the next logical step: promoting individual health.

The CDC website rightly points out the proven benefits of vaccines, masks, and other techniques to stop the spread and reduce the severity of covid-19. Yet it says exactly zero about basic self-care measures that have also been shown to improve outcomes. Researchers have been producing a body of work that shows the importance of proper diet and exercise for protecting against covid-19.

Let’s start with exercise. Exercise has long been known to improve immune function and help protect against viruses. A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows physical inactivity is associated with more severe covid outcomes in terms of hospitalization and death. Conversely, moderate exercise such as walking has been shown to reduce severe covid outcomes. Moderate exercise may even play a role in reducing the spread of covid, as exercise can strengthen the viral gateway of the immune system.

Obesity and diabetes are risk factors for poor covid outcomes. A healthy diet can help with these conditions while also strengthening the immune system at the same time. Fruits and vegetables have consistently been shown to improve immunity and are especially recommended for those with underlying health conditions. A proper diet does not have to be complicated either. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health showed that switching to unprocessed foods will naturally decrease calorie intake and lower weight.

There is also emerging evidence of a potential relationship between sunlight and covid outcomes. Covid-19 is less prevalent in countries closer to the equator. A recent lab study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases showed that sunlight may deactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus on surfaces. While excessive sunlight exposure is damaging, moderate sunlight exposure can stimulate immune function and potentially protect against covid. 

It’s time for policymakers to start recommending these basic pro-health measures.  Moderate exercise such as walking, a diet of mainly unprocessed foods, and appropriate sun exposure are all common-sense tools that can help end this pandemic.  

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Matthew Metzgar is a Clinical Professor of Economics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the author of the textbook “Managerial Economics” published by TopHat Publishing in 2018.