Monday, 26 April 2021 13:15

FirstHealth Fitness member says being physically active helped him beat COVID

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James Ray bikes at FirstHealth Fitness-Troy. James Ray bikes at FirstHealth Fitness-Troy. FirstHealth

TROY — Eighty-one-year-old James Ray credits his recovery from COVID-19 to a lifetime of physical activity, along with quality care. 

A resident of Troy, Ray went to FirstHealth Convenient Care–Lake Tillery on New Year’s Eve for what he hoped was a cold. He tested positive for COVID-19 and a few days later his primary care doctor called 911 to have Ray admitted to FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst. 

“I had a hard time breathing,” he said. “I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t walk. I was just in another world. My son, who was here, called my doctor. That’s where my adventure started.” 

Ray was in the MRH COVID-19 unit for two weeks. He left on Jan.18 and was readmitted on Jan. 29 with pneumonia and low oxygen levels. His stay was shorter the second go-round, and he went home a few days later, equipped with an oxygen tank and instructions to take it easy.

A member of FirstHealth Fitness–Troy since 2001, Ray said he was accustomed to frequenting the gym at least five days a week to cycle or take a spin class. He played baseball from an early age and said he maintained an active lifestyle throughout the years, but it wasn’t until he suffered a heart attack in 1994 that he began to understand how important fitness was for his health.

“My surgeon told me because of my walking and staying active I was able to recover from my heart attack more quickly,” Ray said. “This idea of fitness is really important to me and being active is helping me get over COVID faster. My primary care doctor told me the quicker I return to exercise, the better.” 

Ray worked with Taressa Bryan, FNP, and FirstHealth Fitness-Troy staff, Renee Dunlap and Anna Hunsucker, to safely return to daily work outs. First, with oxygen and low resistance levels on the cycling machine. 

“No one is completely exempt from getting COVID,” Bryan said. “However, good nutrition and an active lifestyle helps support the body and the immune system. Regular physical activity does improve immune function, cardiovascular and muscle function, as well as greater lung capacity, all of which can lessen the impacts of COVID-19. Exercise is medicine, basically.” 

The Kaiser Permanente study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that of nearly 50,000 adults with COVID-19, individuals who did at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity had significantly lower incidences of hospitalization, ICU admission and death.

Ray said he’s now been off oxygen for a few weeks and continues to slowly devote more time to exercising. “I’ll go to the fitness center today, and probably go tomorrow. And so on.” 

FirstHealth offers six medically based fitness centers in Pinehurst, Raeford, Rockingham, Sanford, Southern Pines and Troy. To learn more about FirstHealth Fitness, visit