Saturday, August 22, 2020

Get Your Health Game Up

As stated in my recent piece, this Fall & Winter are going to be a doozy to say the least.  Experts have predicted this period to be the darkest time in America's recent history in terms of illness, economics & general morale as the COVID pandemic rages.  It's also election season which nobody's too stoked about due to the, uh, lackluster choices for president.

In the face of all this doom & gloom, I find it helpful to focus on what we CAN control such as our general wellness.  It's not even just about the virus--your fitness affects everything from your energy & vitality to longevity & lifespan.  It's never been a better time to get your health game up.  While it's true you're not likely to die of coronavirus if you're under 65 and don't have a predisposing condition like obesity, diabetes or COPD, it's capable of causing nasty chronic problems like cardiomyopathy even in those with mild or asymptomatic infection.  Considering how contagious it is, that's something worth taking seriously.

That said, unchecked worry helps nothing & in fact worsens immune response.  What you want to aim for is mindful caution--a middle road between panic & cavalier denial of the facts.  Taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands & social distancing does not = "living in fear"; it's just basic hygiene and common sense.  These are things you should be doing even in the absence of a pandemic during cold & flu season.  Our culture's "tough it out" mindset is dangerous & has lead to the acceptance of no mandatory paid sick leave, vacation & health insurance by employers--things other developed nations take for granted.

Beyond the Basics:  Immunity & Fitness

Support immunity with a flu shot & healthy lifestyle

Once you've got hygiene covered, then you can focus on your body's second line of defense:  the immune system.  Contrary to the supplement industry's advertising, "boosting immunity" is not a thing and you wouldn't want to do it even if it were (hello, autoimmune disease).  It's possible to SUPPORT immune function with proper nutrition, adequate sleep & other basic measures but popping some herb or homeopathic nonsense ain't gonna do it.

GET YOUR FLU SHOT and, if you're over 65, your pneumococcal vaccine.  This will greatly reduce your risk of contracting influenza and pneumonia this winter which will keep you out of the hospital and away from COVID-infected people.  Wait until late September or early October to get your flu shot if possible, as it can lose effectiveness if taken too early.  Some businesses start offering it as early as August but this is ill-advised.  If you miss the Fall deadlines, you should still get vaccinated in the Winter--all the way up to February as the virus peaks in the Winter months.

If you do take supplements, focus on the nutrients that most people are known to be deficient in, such as Vitamin D.  Studies have shown Vitamin D to be low in COVID patients.  Levels tend to dip in the Winter when we spend more time indoors as well.  Other nutrients that have proven vital for immune response include:  Vitamin C, zinc, selenium, iron & protein. It's best to get these from a balanced diet rich in fruits & vegetables but supplementing with a quality multivitamin can help meet your daily needs.

If you're overweight or obese, now would be an ideal time to put all your effort into losing the excess poundage.  Obesity in itself raises the risk of dying from COVID up to 60% in men both over and under age 65.  (Obesity is not an independent risk factor for women, though its attendant problems like diabetes & high blood pressure certainly are).  Aside from our shameful response to mask-wearing & social distancing, Americans' weight problem is theorized to play a big role in our COVID death rate.  We are the 12th fattest nation on Earth, only outdone by small island nations like Samoa & the Cook Islands.  For help losing weight & keeping it off forever, check out my article here.  This plan has worked for me & is the basis for every other "fad" diet from keto to paleo to Atkins & beyond.

While COVID has been "promoted as" a respiratory illness, that's not the whole story.  It also affects the cardiovascular system by causing blood clotting throughout the body which can damage any organ from the brain to the kidneys, heart or liver.  So it makes sense to get your cardiovascular system in shape to give yourself the best chance of survival if you do get sick.  30 minutes of cardio 5 days a week is the recommended amount, but anything is better than nothing.

Leslie Sansone has excellent 5 minute workouts that can be done in your office or other small indoor spaces and they're free on Youtube.  You probably won't see any weight loss from regular exercise but you will see your body tone up along with a decrease in blood pressure & resting heart rate, particularly if you add some strength training in with your cardio.  (Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise...if that).  But the important thing is to pick a routine you can handle & stick to it.

Chill Out... Mindfully

Benzos lower immunity & increase pneumonia risk.

Giving up other bad habits, such as excessive drinking or benzodiazepine use, is also advised.  Benzos in particular increase the risk of developing & dying of pneumonia (weird, right?) so use these as sparingly as possible during this time.  Polarizing philosopher Jordan Peterson has battled pneumonia twice recently while dealing with his benzo addiction and is now fighting Covid (and doing poorly) according to his daughter.  If you smoke weed, you might wanna consider switching to edibles or dry vaping--especially if you come down with a respiratory illness like the flu or bronchitis.  Abuse of all substances has risen since the pandemic started which doesn't bode well for our survival.

Lastly, making time for de-stressing & relaxation every day is absolutely vital to your health during a pandemic or any other time.  But especially during a pandemic.  Unwinding with healthy activities like a warm bath, yoga, meditation, reading or journaling helps release the day's stress & ease you into a restful sleep.  Try to stay off your phone or computer an hour before bedtime, as blue light interferes with circadian rhythm & melatonin production (and thus, sleep).

Avoid caffeine & other stimulants after about 2 p.m.  Alcohol can also interfere with sleep quality despite its reputation as a relaxant.  If you must imbibe, limit yourself to a glass of wine with dinner.  Valerian root & passionflower are gentle, non-addictive supplements that can help with anxiety & insomnia if you need something to take the edge off.

(This article got a little wordy but unfortunately there's no shortcut to good health.  Even with a vaccine, we'll still need to observe good hygiene & common sense measures to protect ourselves & our most vulnerable).

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