Cardiopulmonary Physiology and The Year 2020

We’ve all heard the stats. It’s the old people dying of COVID-19 and not the young ones. In particular it’s old people with underlying health conditions which make them more susceptible.

The medical profession has been mute with respect to prevention other than recommending measures to prevent contact with the virus. In fairness, the WHO has come out and said inexactly “keep exercising”. Given the statistics which indicate young and healthy individual do better, I ask myself…in the context of COVID-19 attacking the lungs mostly….what is it that a person can do to improve their pulmonary health? You guessed it – exercise.

Edward L. Fox and Donald K. Mathews have written on the subject of exercise physiology in their book “The Physiological Basis of Physical Education and Athletics”. The 2020 question becomes, will physically trained individuals handle the COVID-19  virus better than sedentary individuals. Relevant topics covered by Fox and Mathews are “anatomical dead space and alveolar ventilation”, and “lung volume”. The authors proclaim that trained individuals possess higher lung volumes. We are left in 2020 to derive a correlation between increased lung volumes and better oxygenation upon viral threat. The alveoli becomes a key term in the context of oxygenation given that this anatomical structure has been described as an exchange port for transmitting oxygen to capillaries. Authors stop short of proclaiming an increase in oxygen transport efficiency from expanded alveolar capacity due to any training effect in spite of showcasing positively correlated statistics. This has been the question which has “plagued” me since the onset of COVID-19 harkening back to my coursework in exercising physiology as a university student.

In summary, I encourage readers to exercise. If you are a swimmer in Calgary right now you may not be aware that you are treated to your own lap lane at the Respol Centre with an advanced booking even in the context of the new November 23rd regulations. Cross country skiing season is right around the corner and I’ve prepped my skis in anticipation. 

If you work at your health, you’re most likely to be rewarded. If you are not among the risk groups and you regress into a protective cocoon through COVID-19 fear…..instead of being a “sitting duck” you could become a “sitting couch potato”.    

COVID Conundrum

There are all these opinions, some credible action but then a lack of leadership. The puzzle pieces aren’t quite connecting. Governments have more power than they are really willing to deploy in the context of the problem. The underlying premise is not to overwhelm the health care system with patients who may come to need a respirator and hospital bed for survival. This seems like a worthy goal to me. New York experienced acute stress on their system in the early going and Governor Cuomo reacted with strong leadership with his lockdown. He sought federal help and did receive it. The matter was overt, vivid, and humbling for New Yorkers.  

In the state of Ohio today, there are 541 seriously ill patients from COVID-19 in intensive care as reported by the New York Times. The population of Alberta is about 37% that of Ohio. If you are in intensive care it means that you are poised to die without the intervention of continual care. People are dying of the virus and deaths are preventable in absence of transmission. It’s difficult to be argumentative with these facts. 

The economy needs to function and governments have power. Governments communicate with you and they are doing so regularly on the topic of COVID-19. Medical officers speaking on behalf of governments may not offer a powerful voice when communicating facts and therefore not drive a message with force. Medical people have intellect but not necessarily a powerful communication style to help reinforce words. This is certainly the case in Alberta.

If resources become very thin, doctors will make decisions with respect to who gets a ventilator. It will be their ethical duty. You may not be one of the lucky ones if you are gasping for a breath because of COVID-19. Therefore, you should do what’s asked of you. It’s not difficult and it will be temporary if we all comply. There is no conspiracy to strip you of your livelihood. There is no socialist agenda  – but there will be if the political pendulum keeps moving leftward (Canada).

What if things get really bad? You could lose your autonomy. The government could conclude that you lack the moral authority to make good decisions with your behaviour and consequently if you are tested positive for the virus be extracted from your family and warehoused with other COVID-19 positive people until you become symptom free. Your government actually does have this kind of power over you but has never during your lifetime needed to proclaim it.

Responsible citizens are quietly complying with ordinances and going about their business with a duty to their fellow man in the context of being part of a large solution.  I bet you are one of these people and I acknowledge you.