Staying Healthy, With Cardiovascular Disease, During The COVID-19 Crisis
You have undoubtedly heard that cardiovascular disease represents some of the highest risk of serious complications due to COVID-19. Heart problems, along with age and pulmonary disorders, make this virus far more problematic and deadly. However, please remember that you can modify your risk by following important, commonsense tips from the CDC, our health officials and our office. In this article, we will discuss the best ways to maintain and improve your heart health and general health to minimize your risk of coronavirus complications.
Follow CDC Guidelines & Use Common Sense
With infections and deaths in New York City and state leading the United States and the world, it is imperative we follow the guidelines set forth by our federal, state and local medical officials. There are the solid approaches to minimize infection, which include:
- Washing hands appropriately and often. Remember, it is most important to wash your hands with warm water for 20 seconds – if you are using antibacterial soap, this will have no additional effect on viruses, so be sure to wash properly.
- Maintaining physical distance from others – including those who do not live in the same house, no matter how they are related – is extremely important as well. Why? While family members coming over to bring groceries or help in other ways may not seem ill, there is growing evidence showing that a large proportion of coronavirus cases may be completely asymptomatic or very mildly ill. This opens you up to infection even from people who do not seem sick.
- Stay at home when you can, but if you absolutely must leave the house, do so exercising a great deal of caution. Wear a face covering, stay 6+ feet away from others and spend as little time as possible in public. When you return home, be sure to wash your hands and even your clothes. Once again, wash your hands thoroughly and/or sanitize with alcohol-based products.
Eat Well & Exercise
“Eat well and exercise” is a common refrain you have likely heard from your primary care physician and cardiologist. Well, now is as good a time as any to put your lifestyle changes into practice. Eating well means eliminating high calorie, high fat and high sugar foods – really any processed foods – and replacing those with lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and raw and cooked vegetables. Replace fatty cuts of meat with lean fish, such as white fish or salmon, reduce your consumption of red meat and instead opt for chicken and turkey. Increase your intake of healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocado. This is the time to cut down on caffeinated, sugary and alcoholic drinks as well.
It is also important to remember that some vitamins and nutrients play a significant role in immune system function. One of these is vitamin D which is typically absorbed when we go out in the sun. With the weather improving, now is the time to spend a few minutes outside and get a dose each day. There is evidence suggesting that vitamin D can improve the immune system along with enhancing the absorption of calcium and generally improving mood. If your plan is to spend time outdoors, be sure that you do not burn your skin – balance your sun exposure for vitamin D with the need to protect skin with sunscreen to avoid skin cancer.
Exercise is also tough during these times. We are aware that getting outside for any substantial exercise is difficult. And gyms are all closed. However, take to the Internet to find creative ways to exercise at home. Many trainers, gyms and fitness gurus are offering free videos on YouTube or their websites to help keep your heart rate up and get that daily exercise without leaving the house.
Getting enough rest is critically important to your overall health, your heart health and in this particular case, your risk of longer-term complications due to coronavirus infection. We should all be getting 7 to 8 hours of solid sleep throughout the night. However, during time like these there is a tendency to obsess over the news, worry about financial or economic situations or be anxious over infection and our health. All of these can conspire to reduce the amount and quality of sleep we get every night. However, this poor sleep can actually lead to an increase in risk of complications, increase stress, hurt heart health and increase the risk of COVID-19 complications.
Stress was unavoidable before COVID-19 and all of the uncertainty during this time of crisis has only enhanced it. While we may not be able to control that we are more stressed, we can take steps to manage it appropriately and reduce its ill effects. Stress management is a key part of maintaining heart health and it can also be a way to keep our immune systems’ working on all cylinders. Indeed, stress releases a hormone known as cortisol which in many case sis helpful to the immune system. Long-term stress however can overwork and ultimately suppress the immune system – exactly the opposite of what we want during these times.
The bottom line is that we must follow the recommendations set forth by our country’s medical professionals, but we also must take our health into our own hands. Just about any heart patient will have been told how to improve their health and now is the time to start doing so. The lifestyle improvements you undertake to avoid coronavirus are beneficial for heart health as well. So, you’ll be fighting two risks to your health at once!