Heh! I’m nearly 60 myself—and I just realized I’m writing this article for me, as well as for you! As a doctor, I know none of us wants to get infected with this miserable coronavirus, COVID-19. So, what is it we “higher risk” folks need to be looking out for? What are we doing wrong, in our quest to ward off this potentially deadly infection?
Mistake: You’re Lying on the Sofa
We find ourselves in such a shocking situation right now, it’s easy to just curl up on the sofa under a blanket. That’s you—right? However, for people our age, we need to remember that our metabolism slows by 5% per decade. This means as we age, we need fewer calories and more exercise! You need to get up off the sofa, keep active and restrict your calorie intake.
So Be More Aware of Your Weight!
You know the hip bone is connected to the thigh bone—right? Well, your weight is connected to your immune system. To fight the coronavirus, you need to try and lose weight, not eat Ben & Jerry’s on the sofa and get heavier. If we all don’t do this, we will emerge from this crisis even heavier and even more unhealthy.
Mistake: You’re Not Pumping Your Heart
As we age, our hearts grow old, too. Heart disease causes 20% of premature deaths in men and women between the ages of 65 and 74. This is very sad because we can keep our hearts young and healthy, simply by doing as nature intended, and getting up off the sofa and going out the front door!
As far as the pesky virus is concerned, this is important because from the experience in Wuhan, where the virus was first isolated, those who were admitted to hospital and fared the worst were older people with health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
So Do Some Moderate Exercise!
So: Love your heart! Keep it pumping! Did you know that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week reduces your risk of coronary heart disease by 14%?
Mistake: You’re Not Going for Walks
You don’t have to sweat doing things you hate. All you need to do is put one foot in front of the other—and walk. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount. Dr. Harvey Simon, Associate Professor at Harvard-Affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, pointed out that people who exercise just 15 minutes a day have an additional 3 years of life expectancy!
So Go For That Walk!
We are allowed to walk—even on lockdown (if you stay six feet away from others). It’s a good way to pass the time. Walk fast enough to feel a little out of breath and get your heart rate up. Put on some music and head out there! Now is the time.
Mistake: You’re Eating Red Meat
You won’t like this, but you and me both—we need to cut the fast food and the red meat. Before you groan and stop reading, I want to tell you something. That lump around your middle is your abdominal fat—and if you dig deep into the middle of it, you’ll find visceral fat. That’s the dangerous fat that’s wrapped around all your internal organs.
Visceral fat is an active tissue producing hormones which are associated with serious medical conditions. They cause chronic inflammation which in turn is associated with atherosclerosis, diabetes, dementia and cancer. And guess what: Chronic inflammation damages your immune system.
So Try a Plant-Based Burger!
If you want to survive coronavirus, cut-down the red meat, and eat plant-based foods instead. It’s not a hard thing to do—many taste like meat—and it could save your life.
Mistake: You Forgot Your Flu Shot
Only 45% of American adults had a flu shot, and this was 6% down on the year before. Experts recommend one annually to all US citizens over the age of 6 months.
I put this in here because, although the flu jab is not a vaccine for COVID-19, the last thing any of us need to do right now is get sick from any other preventable disease. If we got the flu and were admitted to hospital we might very well contract COVID-19 during our hospital admission! Plus, being vaccinated shows you are taking responsibility for your health and trying to stay away from the doctor’s office. (When there is a COVID-19 vaccine, we need to be first in the queue!)
So Inquire About That Jab
Ask your doctor: When’s the right time for me to get one?
Mistake: You Haven’t Had Your BMs Examined
I hazard a guess I’m not alone here, as I bet many others reading this never got around to this either! You know what? It’s time to get real—it’s your poo or your life! Here’s why.
Like all aspects of medicine, prevention is better than cure. And so is early detection. Bowel cancer can lie undetected for long periods, possibly years, during which it can be successfully treated. You may be completely unaware you have it.
Having cancer weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to infections including COVID-19. Now is the time to get screened and get peace of mind, or if you have it, get treatment and get well. And your poo sample is indeed something you can do from home!
So Get it Checked Out!
The CDC recommends all people over the age of 50 and 75 have an annual poo test. They test for three things: blood, antibodies and cancer DNA. I’m a doctor, and I’ve had it done. The staff in the clinic have seen it all before! There’s no need to be self-conscious. They’ll mail you a kit and you mail it back. Get on and do something that could save your life today!
Mistake: You’ve Grabbed Another Bottle of Beer
Unfortunately for all of us, repeatedly pouring alcohol into the gut is not good for our immune system. It’s very easy to feel cooped up just now, and think everyone else is doing it too—so why not? However, think again. The health of your immune system is vital right now. If you get the infection, you need a fast, powerful immune response.
Swap That Third Beer for This
Now is the time to please your immune system with nutritious green tea instead!
Mistake: You’re Depressed, Thinking “I Can’t Be Bothered”
Is this you? Many older people say they have no energy, no motivation to do anything—even if they do not feel sad. This may be due to depression.
Just because you are older does not mean you should be depressed.
Staying at home, especially if you live alone, can only increase feelings of isolation. And we are all in this together now—stuck in the house—with only ourselves for company. Medical evidence now exists to support the fact the mind and the body are closely connected— and yes, depression can weaken your immune response.
Regular socializing and physical exercise all stimulate brain health. What can you do if you recognize this pattern, in the face of COVID-19 and lockdown?
Here’s How to Get Un-Depressed
Here are a few ideas of how you can improve things for yourself:
- Eat well—You are what you eat. Take an interest in your food. Keep a food diary.
- Get out in the garden, on the balcony or even sit by an open window. Sunlight and fresh air will help.
- Sleep as best that you can. Have a good daily routine and sleep pattern. Don’t oversleep 7-9 hours is recommended for adults.
- Make contact with friends and family via telephone, skype or video call. Try and be cheerful and upbeat and find out what others are doing to keep occupied at this hard time.
- Laugh! Find some comedy programs on TV or radio. Laughing is therapeutic.
- Volunteer to help others.
- Speak to your GP over the phone. Antidepressants work well and are vital for some. Many people with depression are also suffering from anxiety, and antidepressants can have a calming effect.
It’s mind over matter! There really is power in positive thinking!
Mistake: You’ve Gone Online Shopping—Again!
How easy is it right now to while away the time clicking buttons on the internet? In time of crisis, shopping can become an addiction, a recognized psychological condition, and gives us a sense of control. However, think of carbon footprint of the online purchase and delivery, plus the fact this involves the movement of people— which is what we are trying to avoid in terms of spreading the virus.
How to Shop Smarter
Only buy what you need. Always use trusted sites. Check your US state board of pharmacy license before you make a purchase. And remember every time you purchase something, someone else is risking their life to deliver it to you.
Mistake: You Forgot to Take Your Blood Pressure Medication!
You’re not alone. Did you know 125,000 US citizens die every year because they did not take their medication correctly? This can have serious consequences. For example, it can lead to poorly controlled diabetes, poor control of blood pressure, and an increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke.
Chronic illness weakens the immune system. This is why underlying health conditions make people more susceptible to infections—including COVID-19.
So Manage Your Medication Better!
We must all try harder to manage our health conditions at home the best we can and start by taking medication as directed. Here are a few ideas of what to do:
- Read about your medicine and understand what it does for you and how to take it best.
- You can read the Patient Information Leaflet inside the pack of pills, or for example, visit a trusted website, such as drugs.com
- Use a calendar or set an alarm for example on your phone to remind you it’s time to take it.
- Use a dosette. This is a pill-box with compartments divided up for morning, noon, and night. You can ask for help from our pharmacist, or family and friends to put the right pills in each box in advance for a month at a time.
Mistake: You’ve Had Another Duvet Day
At the present time, it’s very tempting to just stay in bed. I’ve stopped setting my alarm clock—what’s the point—and I can easily be in bed at midday. People our age are more likely to be retired, or perhaps working from home.
Sleep is a fascinating subject. So often we read about the dangers of insomnia. But just now perhaps we should be focussing on the dangers of too much sleep? Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Association. This also applies to the older person.
Sleep Tight but Sleep Right
Help your immune system and your wellbeing by sleeping 7-9 hours a night if you can. Next morning—it’s best to ditch the duvet for another exciting day on the planet!
Final Thoughts from the Doctor
Well, folks, it seems we old-timers are just lazy, bed-ridden shopaholics, who binge on Big Macs and Ben and Jerry’s, and fail to respond to any health messages! But seriously: COVID-19 means we need to start taking responsibility for our own health. No amount of hand washing and face masks can fix our weakened immune systems—the will to change has to come from within.
I think we should take COVID-19 as a wake-up call and make this the time right now, that we all make a pledge to live healthier, and happier lives.
I’m up for it—are you?
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus.
Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.