Right now, we’re months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA. Unfortunately, there’s still more we don’t know than do know about this virus. But, one aspect of this horrible disease is clear. Once infected, people with underlying medical problems are at much greater risk of developing serious illness, dying, or becoming debilitated.
Especially in light of the current pandemic, preventing and reversing lifestyle related diseases is something that should take priority. Before now, it would be easiest or most convenient to ignore the idea of taking steps to improve your health. Like anything worthwhile in life, preventing or reversing disease requires full dedication and commitment. Most importantly, it involves consistently adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
Which medical problems put you at greater risk of developing serious illness with COVID-19?
Age is one factor that is most talked about right now. But people of any age can come down with a serious illness. The medical problems that put you at highest risk tend to more commonly be found in older people, but young people who have these underlying problems are at increased risk too. Here’s the list:
- Obesity (body mass index >40)
- Chronic lung disease
- Moderate to severe asthma
- Chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
- Liver disease
- Being immunocompromised
Can any of these medical problems be changed by lifestyle?
Not all the medical problems that put you at risk of serious illness with COVID-19 can be changed by altering your habits. For example, Type I diabetes isn’t a lifestyle disease, it’s an inherited autoimmune problem. On the other hand, Type II diabetes is directly related to lifestyle factors. There can be a genetic predisposition to Type II diabetes, but your lifestyle ultimately determines how those genes play out. Being immunocompromised is also not a situation that is directly under your control.
So, which medical problems can you improve or reverse with lifestyle changes?
- Type II diabetes
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney and liver disease
Which habits are risky, and what to do about them
Chances are, you already know what some of your bad habits are. Attempting to change some of these behaviors might require more help than just making up your mind to change them.
Lack of physical activity
If pain, weakness or lack of mobility are barriers to activity, get evaluated by a physical therapist before starting an exercise program. If you have underlying medical problems, talk to both your doctor and physical therapist before you start.
No pain, limitations, or underlying medical problems? In this case a personal trainer, fitness instructor, or coach can get you started on the right path. There are many resources in just about any activity you might be interested in. Be sure to find activities you enjoy — exercise should bring you joy and pleasure. Not annoyance and dread.
Finally, make sure your fitness routine is well-rounded. Most of us tend to exercise in the same way even when we choose different activities. This is because we favor exercises that are easier for our body type. For example, if you’re a cardio-junkie, mix in strength training and recovery time. If you have strong, stiff muscles, add in stretching or yoga. Are you super flexible and can twist into a pretzel? Round out your routine with exercises that focus on strength and stability.
Sleep is an underrated lifestyle factor that can improve your health. Both your body and mind can’t optimally function without enough sleep.
The simplest advise to improve sleep is to follow a soothing bedtime routine each night. Think about putting a baby or child to bed. They take a bath, drink something warm, snuggle their loved one, have books read to them, have songs sung to them and have their backs gently rubbed before they drift off to sleep.
Adults forget all of this and often stare at screens emitting blue-lights while reading or watching content that can be disturbing or stimulating before bed. Find your version of a soothing bedtime routine. Soon your body will be primed to sleep like a child!
Is your sleep still impaired after adjusting your bedtime routine? Talk to your doctor who can help you address bigger sleep problems like insomnia or sleep apnea.
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about your diet. The professionals who have the most extensive scientific and evidence-based training about food and nutrition are called dietitians. Beware of the many self-proclaimed “nutrition experts” out there.
Despite all the conflicting information we hear about food, the advice that everyone can agree on is this: eliminate or reduce refined sugar and processed foods.
Obesity, heart disease and metabolic diseases like Type II diabetes can be prevented, reversed or controlled with diet.
Most people can’t quit smoking or chewing tobacco products cold turkey. Find a smoking cessation specialist to help. Your family doctor can point you in the right direction.
Excessive alcohol consumption
How much is too much? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate alcohol consumption as two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
If you’re dependent on alcohol, please talk to your doctor and seek the help of supportive organizations.
Think you can’t make difficult changes?
Guess what, you’re already doing a bunch of hard things right now. Staying home, avoiding people, losing work, homeschooling your kids, worrying about the vulnerable, the list goes on and on. You can do hard things, you’re proving it right now. You’ve got this!
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