I'm a Doctor and Here's How to COVID-Proof Yourself
As we head deeper into summer, statistics show that the coronavirus is nowhere near under control, and health officials are worried about what this winter will bring, when most of us spend more time indoors. As a doctor, I know people feel helpless, frightened and anxious. We're all waiting in anticipation of a vaccine, and any news about effective treatment. But those solutions are still many months away. Click through to discover the essential things you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones in the meantime.
We are now being strongly encouraged, and in 30 states mandated, to wear masks anywhere social distancing is difficult – for example, in a supermarket or on public transportation. A cloth mask is sufficient; it doesn't need to be a specialized hospital mask. Make sure it comfortably covers your nose and mouth.
Comply With Social Distancing Guidelines
Avoid crowds and large gatherings. When you're in public, stay at least six feet away from people not in your household. The highest risk activity is attending gatherings of large numbers of people, where attendees are from households that aren't your own.
Avoid Visiting Older Relatives
Age is a risk factor for COVID-19. In the UK, statistics reveal that retirees are 34 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people of working age. The CDC recommends that older people limit social contact as much as possible.
Travel Only When Necessary
"Because travel increases your chances of getting infected and spreading COVID-19," says the CDC, "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick." And never, ever go to bars.
Practice Good Hand Hygiene
Proper handwashing is essential to control the spread of COVID-19. Wash your hands for 15 to 30 seconds to ensure you remove most bacteria and viruses. Soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizer. When hands are wet, they transfer bacteria and viruses more easily, so be sure to dry them thoroughly.
Use disinfectants to keep "high touch" surfaces clean, including door handles, the computer mouse, remote controls, kitchen worktops and light switches.
Cope With Stress
Forty-five percent of Americans feel their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic, according to a KFF health tracking poll. And poor mental health increases the risk of poor physical health. Stress has been shown to significantly affect mortality. Anxiety weakens the immune system. Check out the CDC's page on coping with stress, which includes many helpful websites and phone numbers.
Treat High Blood Pressure
A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 60% of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units had high blood pressure. Looking after your blood pressure is a positive step you can take to help reduce your risk of severe COVID infection. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack or stroke, and it upsets the way the immune system is controlled. Know your blood pressure, and if it's high, follow your doctor's advice and the following tips.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), is based on the Mediterranean Diet and is rich in fruits, vegetables and antioxidants. Reduce your salt intake, and eat potassium-rich foods.
Losing weight is one of the very best things you can do for yourself. Experts say that 40% of Americans diagnosed with hypertension are obese (BMI >66 lbs/m2). Obesity is a major cause of hypertension. (A 9 lbs weight loss reduces your systolic pressure by 4.5 mm Hg, and your diastolic pressure by 3.2 mm Hg.) Obesity puts you at severe risk for COVID-19; talk with a medical professional about your weight if you're worried.
Getting more exercise will lower your blood pressure. Regular aerobic exercise reduces your blood pressure by 5 to 7 mm Hg—enough to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 20 to 30%. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people with hypertension perform five to seven sessions of moderate-intensity exercise, each for 30 to 60 minutes, every week. This can be done, for example, in three 10-minute bursts.
Whether smoking is a direct cause of high blood pressure is unclear. But there is no doubt that smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In those aged over 35, smoking is a major cause of heart attacks, stroke, and respiratory diseases. In the era of COVID-19, now has never been a better time to quit.
Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, especially hypertension. In the UK, the NHS has advised the whole population to take 10 mcg (400 IU) per day of additional vitamin D during the COVID pandemic. This was because during lockdown people could only exercise for one hour per day. There is no current recommendation to take extra vitamin D to help prevent COVID infection. However, there are plausible reasons why this could have benefits, specifically as vitamin D has a regulatory role in the immune system, and because the winter is approaching, and this is when seasonal respiratory viruses are usually more common.
Drink Alcohol in Moderation
Here's the good news: Moderate alcohol consumption is thought to decrease the risk of strokes and heart attacks by around 30%. This is defined as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men. However, heavy alcohol consumption is a strong risk factor for hypertension. It also compromises the immune system.
Since the pandemic began, reports suggest alcohol intake has increased, with a 54% increase in alcohol sales toward the end of March. According to the American Heart Association, 16 percent of Americans admit they have upped their drinking.
Know Your Diabetes Risk
The JAMA study found that 39% of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units had diabetes. Ask your healthcare provider if you should be tested for diabetes, and follow their recommendations. As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.