The Best Weapon Against Covid: Stay Lean

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hearing about COVID. Let’s forget all that mess for now though and focus on the single, most important factor in determining COVID outcomes if someone were to get COVID (at the time of this writing COVID has infected approximately 1.95% of the U.S. population) and if you were to develop symptoms (according to the World Health Organization, 80% of those infected show only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic).


So, of those infected, why do approximately 5% end up on ventilators and have a higher mortality rate than the other 90+% of people infected? The key is underlying conditions, as we have heard. We’ve heard the list: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory illnesses, and obesity. The last point, obesity, is the most common link and the major factor explaining critical COVID cases, even in younger people, more so than any other factor. What is the #1 cause of adult-onset diabetes? Obesity. What is the number cause of heart disease? Obesity. A top cause of high blood pressure? Obesity.

The September 2020 issue of Science magazine reported that in a study of 399,000 COVID patients, obese patients were 113% more likely to land in the hospital, 74% more likely to be admitted to the ICU, and 48% more likely to die. Other large studies reported in the same article reinforced this data and showed that being overweight (a BMI of 25-30), obese (BMI 30-35), or severely obese (BMI of over 35) increased the risk of COVID deaths proportionately.


So why is obesity so dangerous when it comes to COVID outcomes? Obesity impairs immune system function, causes chronic systemic inflammation, and causes blood to be prone to clot, thereby compounding the effect of the virus. This is very bad news given that an estimated 40% of the U.S. population is obese, not including those that are overweight (sources estimate another 30% of the population). Houston, we have a problem. A big problem (no pun intended).

In particular, fat cells are known to produce cytokines (an inflammatory agent), so the more fat cells, the more cytokines in the person’s system and hence the more residual inflammation which is a foundation of many disease processes including coronary artery disease, cancers, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, COPD, and the list goes on. A COVID infection further raises cytokine levels, and along with the high residual levels, creates a “cytokine storm” which brings severe inflammation to the lungs, kidneys, and other internal organs impairing function. Severely inflamed lung tissue results in pneumonia and very poor oxygen exchange, resulting in the need to put severe patients on a ventilator, or in the worst-case scenario, death.


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the health and fitness lifestyle offers the best protection not only against developing severe COVID symptoms but also just about every disease you can think of (heart disease, stroke, cancers, inflammatory diseases, etc.). Overweight and or obese people usually already know this, but for whatever reason, haven’t taken successful action.

But we can’t stop trying to help them. That doesn’t mean scolding them or judging them. It means gently and clearly explaining things and supporting/encouraging their efforts because every single pound of fat lost reduces cytokine production and helps reduce disease / COVID risks.

Often the first step in others is helping yourself. So do your best, eat clean, get daily general exercise even if you can’t make it to the gym, stay away from carbs at night, and lead by example! Then you’ll be in a better position to help others. Start them light, start them easy, start them conveniently, but start them. Take a friend, family member, or neighbor on a walk––a short walk if need be. Get their confidence up. Support them through their fears. Maybe hold off on taking them to the gym if they’ve been sedentary for a long time or are obese, unless they personally ask.

Find a way. Be a light. So many people need our help!

About the Author: Dr. Tom Deters

Dr. Tom Deters is the former Editor in chief and publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine and publisher of both FLEX and Men’s Fitness magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and given hundreds of seminars on training, performance nutrition, diet strategy and bodyfat control.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.