May 2, 2020
While many of us are focused on the short-term concerns about COVID-19 infection, it is also important to focus on long-term health.
WITH GOVERNMENTAL DIRECTIONS TO STAY AT HOME, it may be tempting to sit on the couch, binge watch TV and eat junk food until everything blows over. That might be okay for a couple of days, but restrictions will probably last for several weeks to months.
It may seem like things such as nutrition and exercise are trivial during the crisis, but they aren’t.
A bad case of couch potato
Over time, people neglecting their heart and brain health are increasing their chances of obesity, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. And these are some of the top underlying conditions associated with increased severity of COVID-19. People’s mental well-being is also suffering as two-thirds of Canadians have reported increased stress, fear and anxiety.
For both short-term and long-term physical and mental well-being, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is as important now as it ever was. This includes getting sufficient quality sleep, eating healthy, getting regular physical activity and staying connected.
Even at the best of times, nearly 50 per cent of Canadians have trouble with sleep. And with information on the pandemic bombarding us throughout the day, getting a good night’s sleep can be tough. But not getting enough sleep can heighten anxiety and increase risk of heart disease and stroke.
Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Our bodies have their own internal clock, so consistent sleep and wake times are also important.
To help with sleep, set up a wind down routine—things to do each night for the half hour before bed. This could be silent reading, listening to music or meditating; avoid screen time as the blue light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin.
With daily news stories of empty grocery stores and people hoarding food, it may seem hard to get fresh healthy foods. Especially when trips to the grocery store should be limited. But try to resist the urge to stock up on processed convenience foods. These ultra-processed foods increase chances of getting heart disease and stroke.
Instead, use the extra time at home to learn new recipes. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy can all be easily frozen. Previously frozen fruits and vegetables are also just as nutritious as fresh.
If freezer space is a problem, try canned fruits and vegetables, along with canned fish such as sardines, salmon and tuna. And as grocery stores remain open and frequently stocked, take only what is needed, otherwise it can deprive others from getting food they need.
Getting regular activity may be equally challenging, especially if you live in a small apartment with no backyard. But it can raise one’s mood and improve the immune system. Simple things such as skipping rope in the parking lot or calisthenics at home are great. For weights, look around your kitchen. Soup cans and milk jugs can replace dumbbells. For guided exercise programs, there are many videos on YouTube.
If feasible, getting out for a walk or bike ride is great. Even short two minute walks around the house can break up sitting and improve blood sugar.
Lastly, don’t forget about staying connected with others. We’ve all been told to social distance, but that really means physical distancing. Being connected is good for us, while being alone is associated with poor physical and mental health. And with technology, distance isn’t a problem. Just hearing a familiar voice is comforting and sharing a smile on a video call can increase happiness and reduce stress.
If you’re one of the 2.5 million people in Canada with heart disease or one of the 62,000 people who have a stroke each year it is crucial to keep up with personal self-care.
Many clinics as well as cardiac and stroke rehabilitation programs have closed but some are providing virtual sessions and others may be available to support by phone.
If you have a medical appointment, call ahead before heading out. A lot of doctors are consulting patients by telephone or video conference. If possible, opt for that choice to keep you home.
Ensure you continue to take your medications and have at least a month’s supply. For additional resources, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has moderated Facebook groups and plenty of information to help you take care of your heart health at heartandstroke.ca
Dr. Scott Lear is a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital.