Embrace a healthy lifestyle: Taking charge of your health in the time of COVID

Filipinos are known for taking health for granted. Our bahala na culture often sees Filipinos delaying healthcare up to the last possible moment when complications become difficult to manage or, worse, become untreatable at all.

Things took a turn for the worst with the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical conditions that Filipinos left off for later have now become a major health liability. COVID patients with significant medical co-morbidities were found to have a higher risk for admission to an ICU and had worse outcomes overall 1.

On a more positive note, most of these medical conditions are completely preventable. It’s possible to avoid having these common medical conditions when you embrace a healthy lifestyle. Effective and practical, these are simple steps to take charge of your health during this time of COVID.

 

Hypertension

Commonly called High blood in the local Filipino language, hypertension is a cardiovascular disease that refers to increased blood pressure in the arteries2. The primary causes of hypertension are lifestyle factors including too much salt in the diet, excessive body weight, increased alcohol intake, and smoking.

It is widely known as a major risk factor for more serious illnesses such as heart attack, stroke, and premature death. Patients with hypertension also have higher chances of having severe COVID infections. In an Italian study investigating over 1000 hospital patient deaths because of COVID, 72% of these patients had hypertension.3

How do you prevent hypertension? Start with changing up your diet.

Less salt and more potassium in the diet may help prevent hypertension. A Mediterranean diet (think Greek Salads and Souvlakis) are beneficial in improving blood pressure in the long run4. Stop excessive alcoholic drink intake and smoking.

Finding time for exercise is also important to a healthy lifestyle. The World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of light to moderate physical activity three times a week.5 Whether it’s jogging around your home, using a jumping rope, or doing a home Zumba routine, engaging in regular physical exercises is a sure way towards a healthier you. Consult with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.

 

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, or Diabetes for short (or jabetis pronounced in local Filipino language), is a long-term medical condition where a patient has elevated blood sugar levels for long periods of time.

In diabetes, there is insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone in the body that’s responsible for bringing the sugar (or glucose) inside the cells of our body so we can store them for use later on. With insulin resistance, however, the sugar stays in the blood, and from there can cause several health problems.

Untreated long-term diabetes results in a number of metabolic symptoms such as frequent urination and fatigue. It may also result in blurring of vision, problems in wound healing, or chronic kidney problems if not given adequate treatment.6

Elevation of blood glucose levels for long periods of time weakens the immune response of the body to infection. This means patients are more likely to succumb to opportunistic infections like COVID.

Diabetes is also considered a risk factor for severe COVID. In a Chinese study involving 173 patients with severe COVID infections, 16.2% had diabetes.7

How can you reverse the effect of diabetes? Cut down on carbohydrates or carbs

Carbohydrates include white rice, white bread, white sugar in coffee, milk chocolates, and regular carbonated drinks like Coca-Cola. Taken in excess, carbohydrates can aggravate your already worsening blood sugar situation.

 

COPD

COPD is a chronic condition associated with prolonged breathing problems and limitations in airflow to the lungs. The main risk factor for developing COPD is smoking. Almost 90% of COPD patients have a history of smoking 8.

 

Prolonged smoking damages the air sacs in the lungs and irritates the airways to the point of narrowing and increased mucus production. This causes permanent damage to the lungs and airways resulting in shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and impaired sputum production. There is currently no cure for COPD.

 

Contracting a COVID-19 infection as a patient with COPD is equivalent to a death sentence. The mortality rate as high as 60% in patients with COPD infected with COVID9. With pre-existing lung and airway damage, these patients are also the most likely to require mechanical ventilation support.

How can I prevent COPD? Two words: Stop smoking! 

Kicking this habit is the single most important aspect of treatment. Across all age groups, smoking cessation provides beneficial effects in stopping the progression of the disease and maintaining what lung function remains.

 

Final thoughts

The new normal serves as a timely reminder of what is important in our lives. COVID-19 has shown us just how fragile life is and that we need to take extra steps towards prevention. Now more than ever, there is a need to put a new premium on being in the best of health at such an uncertain time.

Though this pandemic is hardly under our control, our own health is a different matter. Equipped with the right information with the expert advice of healthcare professionals, take charge and embrace a healthy lifestyle.

 

References

[1] Guan et al. (2020). Comorbidity and its impact on 1590 patients with Covid-19 in China: A Nationwide Analysis. European Respiratory Journal,

[2] Poulter, N.R. et al. (2015). Hypertension. Lancet, 386, 801-812.

[3] Characteristics of COVID-patients who died in Italy. March 26, 2020, https://www.epicentro.iss.it/coronavirus/bollettino/Report-COVID-2019_26_marzo.pdf

[4] Magriplis, E. et al. (2020). Presence of Hypertension Is Reduced by Mediterranean Diet Adherence in All Individuals with a More Pronounced Effect in the Obese: The Hellenic National Nutrition and Health Survey (HNNHS). Nutrients12, 853.

[5] World Health Organization. Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health. https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/

[6] World Health Organization. Diabetes Programme. https://web.archive.org/web/20140331094533/http://www.who.int/diabetes/action_online/basics/en/

[7] Yang X, Yu Y, Xu J, et al. Clinical course and outcomes of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a single-centered, retrospective, observational study. Lancet Respir Med. 2020; doi: 10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30079-5.

[8] Ward H (2012). Oxford Handbook of Epidemiology for Clinicians. Oxford University Press. pp. 289–290

[9] Alqahtani, J. et al. (2020). Prevalence, Severity, and Mortality associated with COPD and Smoking in patients with COVID-19: A Rapid Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.25.20043745v1

[10] Healthline. Quitting Smoking as COPD Treatment. https://www.healthline.com/health/copd/quit-smoking-treatment#strategies

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