Improving COVID-19 outcomes through healthy living

In the midst of the biggest global pandemic in living memory, Ross Arena, professor and head of physical therapy at the UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, conceived of and launched The Healthy Living for Pandemic Event Protection (HL- PIVOT) network earlier this summer.  

The overarching goal of this global network is to promote healthy living behaviors that are known to reduce the risk of chronic disease as well as the impact of pandemic diseases, such as COVID-19.

Ross Arena
UIC’s Ross Arena launched a network to support healthy behaviors for improving COVID-19 outcomes.

“It is well-known that the risk for bad outcomes for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity, which in themselves are considered pandemics, are much higher in pandemic situations like the one we are in right now,” said Arena, who is also interim head of biomedical and health information sciences at UIC. “I thought this was an opportune time to launch this global network bringing together researchers, clinicians, educators, policy-makers, fitness professionals and others to help improve awareness of healthy behaviors like eating well and exercising and their protective benefits when it comes to chronic disease.”

The group, which has more than 100 members and is growing, has already published several papers and is drafting policy statements encouraging the support of healthy living. Members of the group also are working together to develop new global research projects and grant submissions as well as educational programs.

People who are generally healthier to begin with tend to be able to weather illness better than people who are already behind the eight ball in terms of their health. People with heart disease, diabetes or obesity, as well as people who smoke or are sedentary, often have worse health outcomes when they become ill. Keeping healthy — maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, eating and sleeping well and managing stress — are the cornerstones of good health, Arena explained.

When it comes to COVID-19, a clear pattern has emerged that indicates that people with pre-existing conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, significantly increase the risk of poor outcomes due to the viral infection, Arena explained.

“On the other hand, we have strong evidence that high cardiorespiratory fitness as well as regular physical activity and a healthy diet improve immune function, which helps protect against infection including COVID-19,” he said.

The HL-PIVOT program will include collaborative research, education, policy recommendations and advocacy and programs to support healthy living behaviors around the globe.

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