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COVID – 19 and Chronic Lifestyle Disease – Advice From Our Clinical Team

It is likely that you have come across concerning headlines stating that carrying excess weight and having chronic lifestyle diseases can significantly increase the risk of becoming critically ill when contracting COVID-19 (WHO, 2020). It has become evident that two-thirds of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in the UK were overweight or had obesity. In Italy nearly all individuals who passed away from COVID-19 had pre-existing chronic lifestyle conditions frequently linked to excess weight, including hypertension, diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease (World Obesity, 2020). A report investigating COVID-19 associated hospitalisations in the United States found that 89.3% of admitted patients had one or multiple lifestyle related underlying conditions including hypertension (49.7%), obesity (48.3%), chronic lung disease (34.6%), diabetes mellitus (28.3%) and cardiovascular disease (27.8%) (Garg et al. 2020). 

This is challenging to hear during these uncertain stressful times. We would like to support you by sharing some simple steps you can take to improve your situation. None of this will work overnight but with consistency, the right support and a clear plan, you can improve your health and your body’s ability to fight infections such as COVID-19. At the time of writing there is no known cure for COVID-19 and vaccines which are in development, are likely to give limited immunity due to the multiple strains of COVID-19 in circulation caused by virus mutation. Therefore we feel it is imperative that we all now start to take individual responsibility for own health to give each of us and our loved ones the best chance of dealing with viral infections. 

The first thing you need to know is that if you struggle with lifestyle related chronic diseases and carry excess weight losing weight, no matter which diet you choose, will improve your metabolic markers and improve your overall health. The only way you can lose weight is by consuming less calories than you burn consistently over a period of time. There is a lot of noise from various diet camps including the keto, vegan, paleo and carnivore camps, yet the only diet right for you is the one that you can consistently stick to in a calorie deficit. This can differ from your eventual maintenance diet or can remain the same – whatever works for you. 

It is generally easier to control your hunger if you eat sufficient fibrous vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains and also eat lean protein from sources like chicken, turkey, beans, lentils, tofu and nuts, so try and see which food options you personally enjoy, keep you full and help you adhere. Diets lower in saturated fat, lower in sodium, lower in refined, free sugar and higher in whole home cooked foods are always the better choice but try and work with what is available to you. Frozen and canned options, without anything added, are great options that last longer, are widely available and relatively inexpensive. 

You can also increase your calorie deficit by adding in some additional physical activity to your daily life. Any physical activity you add to what you’re currently doing will help increase your calorie deficit, improve your metabolic markers, body composition and emotional well-being. Small things really add up here so, depending on where you’re starting from, you can start by taking the stairs, walking to certain destinations instead of using public transport or your car, or getting off a few stops earlier to walk the rest. Currently during lockdown we are going to the supermarkets for essential supplies – try parking your car as far away from the entrance to increase your daily step count. You can also start doing some free home workout videos like a nice yoga flow, some strength training or a pilates class. Make sure you start from the level you are at and take it from there. Seeing improvements on a regular basis is incredibly motivating and momentum will build over time. Inexpensive step counters are a great way to track what you are doing and set yourself daily goals.

The most important part to get you started on your journey towards better health is to create an achievable plan. If you are not sure how to get started, seek support from credible trained practitioners. Try to think about where you would like to get to in 3 months and work backwards from there. If you would like to achieve a healthy BMI in 3 months and workout 4 x a week on a regular basis, for example, think about what can you do today to move towards that in small, achievable steps. 

You can start by reading ingredient labels to learn what is in the foods you eat. You can start learning what a healthy plate size and plate composition looks like for you. You can start by batch cooking and preparing your food for the week in the right portions to keep you on track. You can try out new, healthier recipes. You can throw out foods that trigger you to overeat. You can start walking 40 minutes a day tracking your steps. You can try out a free, 10 minute Youtube workout video every couple of days to see what you enjoy doing. You can reach out to friends who would also like to improve their health and open a private Facebook or WhatsApp support group to share ideas, tips and tricks and keep each other motivated and accountable. Every step counts and adds up to big changes over time.

At the DRC our clinicians support our clients with all of the suggestions listed above. However we don’t just stop there. We also help address the quantity and quality of your sleep and how you deal with stress. We work with our clients to change their home environment to make it easier to make healthy decisions and difficult to make poor health choices. 

The most important thing for you to know is that it is never too late to change. Get started today and try out a few programmes and approaches to find out what you can stick to. There is nothing wrong with trying out multiple approaches as long as you keep moving forward towards your goal. You will be so glad you started 3, 6, 12 months from now. Know that you can do this and that success usually comes after a lot of hard work. You will be so proud of all you have achieved! 

By Dr. Farhan & Marie Spreckley

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