The internet can be an amazing place for information. I’m curious about a lot of things, so the ability to instantly look something up is an amazing thing. But the internet can also be full of misinformation and frankly, social media has reared its ugly head over the last few months with people arguing over COVID-19, schools reopening, and more.
I lead with this as a warning that I am not claiming to be an expert on COVID-19, but I do know a thing or two about being healthy. And something that is fairly clear is that people with chronic disease seem to do far worse when they contract COVID-19 than people who don’t have chronic diseases. Knowing this, wouldn’t you want to put yourself in a position that is resilient and buffers you from severe illness? [Note to keyboard warriors: Of course there will be outliers and of course we can’t guarantee anything. I’m also not saying this is a way to prevent getting COVID, nor is it a cure. Ok, thanks.]
So here’s what I would do if I’m trying to be healthy and stave off chronic disease so I can be resilient to severe symptoms of COVID-19 (hint: these are the exact same things I would recommend to anyone looking to be healthy in general)
- Cut Out Sugar and Processed Foods
Our bodies at rest have about 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of sugar floating through it. A 20 oz. Mountain Dew has over 15 teaspoons (77 grams) of sugar in it. Besides the obvious sugary items, there is sugar in most processed foods as well. It might be disguised with names like dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, maltose, or over 50 more names, but it’s there. While I don’t believe sugar is itself the problem (e.g. sugar in a piece of fruit is relatively benign), the fact that it’s so easily accessible and the sheer quantities being consumed have led to a pandemic of Type II Diabetes.
- Eat Real Food
It’s easy to say you should cut out sugar, but what do you replace it with? Real food like meat, fish, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, etc. Basic things you should look for are things that grow in nature, are THE ingredient (bag of carrots – ingredient: carrots), and combine those things with some spices for variety.
You need sleep more than you need food or water. Just after missing one night of sleep your cognition is the equivalent of being drunk and everything else suffers. Looking to lose body fat? You need sleep. Looking to gain muscle? You need sleep. Looking to boost your immune system? You need sleep. Looking to increase your testosterone? You need sleep. Want to kill it in that Zoom meeting tomorrow? You need sleep. The fact is that so many great things happen when we sleep. How much? For most people it’s 7.5-9 hours.
As people age, they lose muscle mass (sarcopenia), lose balance, bones become more fragile, and metabolism slows down. What counteracts all of those things? Exercise. Particularly strength training and short, relatively intense workouts. Luckily, we offer that in person and also remotely so you can do it from the comfort of your own home. But you could also try it for yourself, or find someplace local that fits with your goals. Whatever you do, get some exercise in 2-5 times a week!
- Get Vitamin D
Sunlight is good for us. It regulates circadian rhythms which help sleep, it boosts our immune system, and helps our mood. Luckily we’re in a time of year where sunlight is plentiful, so get outside for at least 20 minutes each day and soak up the sun. If you’re in an area of the world where sunlight is less accessible, look for a Vitamin D3 supplement. Generally the darker your skin, the more you need Vit D3, but talk with your doc about the right amount (usually measured in IUs)
- Find Community
Stress and cortisol levels absolutely affect the immune system. One of the best ways to lower stress and cortisol is to have a tribe or community, even if it’s virtually. So get on Zoom with your close friends or go do a physically distant* meet-up outdoors. Laugh. Enjoy yourself. Use your community as a way to blow off steam.
None of these should be too surprising and none should seem too extreme. I’ve personally seen people that were on diabetes medications for YEARS take control of their habits and get off the meds. Same thing for blood pressure meds, rheumatoid arthritis, and more. Unfortunately doctors only have so much time and can’t educate people on good nutrition and exercise. So that’s where we come into play and hopefully can keep you from even getting to that point of needing medications.
*I prefer saying “physically distant” rather than “socially distant” since I think you should still be social