COVID-19 has taught us important lifestyle lessons that we should all continue to practice when this pandemic is finally brought under control.
Consistent findings from China, Italy, and the United States indicate that people with underlying health conditions and risk factors including but not limited to diabetes, high blood pressure, long-term lung disease, heart disease, stroke, long-term kidney disease and smoking are at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.
The implications are significant. As these are conditions that predominantly affect people as they grow older, we need to ensure that we prevent or mediate these conditions properly. If we prevent high blood pressure, for example, the risks of developing COVID-19, irregular pulse (atrial fibrillation) and many other illnesses decrease.
COVID-19 has forced us to take precautions such as thorough hand washing; cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces; avoiding crowds and contact with persons who are ill; maintaining physical activity while isolated; and learning new computer skills or hobbies. The good news is that practicing these habits will not only reduce your risk of developing COVID-19, it will also improve your general health, reduce your risk of physical frailty and increase your brain health.
Imagine for the sake of argument that 100 out of 1,000 people will develop COVID-19. Now imagine that after implementing the advice in this article, only 70 developed COVID-19 instead of 100. If the only objective was the prevention of COVID-19, we would be delighted because that would be a 30 per cent reduction in COVID-19 cases. But the outcome is still more significant. Although the other 900 people do not see an advantage in terms of COVID-19 infection, they will develop fewer diseases; keep their brains healthier and their minds sharper; be more independent and active; be less likely to have to go into a care home; and feel physically and mentally better.
Many current health problems are the result of a combination of inactivity and diet. For example, type II diabetes and high cholesterol levels are due to reduced activity levels and increased calorie intake in most people; high blood pressure most commonly occurs in those who are overweight and sedentary.
Many of the underlying health conditions increasing the risk of COVID-19 are closely related to inactivity and diet. Although this can be disheartening because the modern environment greatly contributes to many health risks, it also means that a few, simple lifestyle changes can decrease the risks. Three general areas needed to keep healthy are:
1) Physical health – be more active, reduce the impact of stress, have good sleep habits, and be wary of overmedication.
2) Blood supply – don’t smoke, keep your blood pressure low, your weight down, and decrease the sugar and cholesterol in your diet.
3) Brain capability – get active and involved in the community (through virtual methods at the moment), increase intellectual activity and check your hearing and vision.
COVID-19 has shed light on some important aspects of health and ageing. Ageing alone is not a cause of major problems until the later 80s – look at Christopher Plummer, who received Academy Award nominations at ages 88 and 90!
While COVID-19 has taught us the importance of physical distancing and proper hygiene practices, to check on friends and family to lessen the emotional impact of isolation, the outbreak is also an important reminder to continue practices that will increase our physical and brain fitness and protect against a wide range of illnesses.
*A version of this was published on the Niagara-on-the-Lake Local and notllocal.com