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Reducing your risk of COVID-19 complications is yet another good reason to lose weight.

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As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocketed this past spring and summer, doctors noted a troubling phenomenon. People who were overweight or obese were more likely to develop severe complications, require hospitalization or even die if they contracted the novel coronavirus.

Losing weight if you are overweight or obese can help improve your health in many ways. And now you can add lowering the risk of serious illness associated with COVID-19 to the benefits of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

How Weight Affects COVID-19 Recovery

The risk of severe or lingering coronavirus complications may increase due to these factors that are common among people who are overweight or obese:

  • Restricted diaphragm movement: Your diaphragm, the large muscle beneath your lungs, contracts when you take a breath, allowing air to more easily enter your lungs. Abdominal fat restricts the movement of your diaphragm, which may worsen coronavirus-related breathing issues.
  • Inflammation: The coronavirus triggers inflammation in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke. Fat cells, especially those located in the abdomen, produce substances that also inflame blood vessels. As inflammation in your body rises, so does your risk of serious COVID-19 complications.
  • Protein receptors in fat cells: The coronavirus attaches to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) protein receptors in the body’s cells. The receptors help control blood pressure, wound healing and inflammation. ACE2 receptors may not be able to manage these functions effectively once the virus binds to them. The receptors are found on many types of body cells, including fat cells. You have a higher number of fat cells if you’re obese or significantly overweight, which might make it easier for the virus to overwhelm your body.
  • Obesity-related conditions: The more underlying health conditions you have, the greater the chance that you’ll develop coronavirus complications. If you’re overweight or obese, you may also have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Losing weight will help you control these conditions and reduce your risk of severe COVID-19 complications.

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente found that the risk of death from COVID-19 was three times higher in people who were severely obese and four times higher in those who were extremely obese.

In addition to helping you avoid coronavirus complications, losing weight offers many other health advantages. Even a 5%-10% percent weight loss may lower your blood pressure, ease sleep apnea, reduce inflammation and “bad” cholesterol, and decrease your risk of diabetes. Excess weight also puts tremendous pressure on your joints, so shedding extra pounds reduces arthritis risk and may help you avoid or delay joint replacement surgery.

Losing weight is an excellent way to reduce your risk of coronavirus complications while helping to improve your health overall. If you’re not sure how to start or haven’t been successful in the past, get in touch with your doctor. He or she can recommend healthy eating and exercise plans that will help you safely reach your goal weight.

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Date Last Reviewed: September 17, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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