Long After Covid-19, A Healthy Lifestyle Prevents Disease
Are You Tired of Hearing About COVID-19? Me, too! COVID-19 is an immediate threat to our health. But if there is one thing our country is good at, it is creating new treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases. However, long after the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, heart disease will still be here. Diabetes will still be here. Obesity, kidney disease, and cancers will still be here. Every year, heart disease kills 647,000 Americans. Our country went into lockdown because of COVID-19. What will we do to prevent and reverse heart disease? Chronic diseases will get us in the long run if we do not start preventing them now. The same healthy lifestyle elements that make us more resilient in the face of severe acute infections also protect us from chronic diseases.
The first healthy lifestyle element I want to address is exercise and physical activity. Exercising at or above the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 90 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week is associated with lower risk of a major cardiovascular event AND dying from all causes, including heart disease. Moderate exercise is considered that which you can perform while having a conversation but you would be breathing heavily. If you can’t talk at all, you are exercising vigorously. If you can sing or easily talk, you are not working hard enough for the activity to be considered moderate-intensity.
Moving around throughout the day is just as important as regularly exercising. Sitting too much during the day on a regular basis is a separate risk factor for heart disease and death. Again, this is separate from time spent doing moderate-to-vigorous or light physical activity. Not exercising is a separate risk factor. So if you spend a lot of time sitting AND you do not exercise, you are compounding your risk of developing heart disease (and many, many other chronic diseases, as well). Even exercising for 30-60 minutes per day does not off-set the adverse effects of too much sitting, considered to be more than 6-8 hours per day (this includes time spent driving, eating, watching TV or reading, working at a desk or table, leisure activities or talking on the phone while seated).
The second healthy lifestyle element I want to address is diet. How are you fueling your body? Whole foods, plant based eating can prevent and even reverse the development of heart disease. Eating high amounts of plant protein (notably, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains) is associated with a reduction of all-cause and heart disease-related deaths. This is even true for those who already have other risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and inactivity. On the other hand, eating high amounts of animal protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy) is associated with higher rates of heart disease and heart disease-related deaths. Whole plant foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds, beans & legumes, and whole grains. Eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day has been found to impart health benefits. The fiber found in whole plant foods appears to be critical to our gut health and overall health. Avoiding refined and processed foods is also highly recommended to improve overall health and this practice is substantiated in the research.
The final healthy lifestyle element I want to address is sleep. In study after study, 6-8 hours of sleep per day is associated with lower rates of developing heart disease, lower rates of sustaining a cardiovascular event (such as a heart attack) and lower risk of death. There are many small things you can do to improve your sleep quality and quantity. Please see our blog on sleep for more specific information.
Choose one thing to make a small change first. Then once you have mastered it, choose something else to focus on to make a positive change for your lifestyle habits. You will keep taking steps towards better health, avoiding heart disease and so many other chronic diseases that will still be here after COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror. If you have questions, please let us know. Let’s be healthy together!
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