Expert Blogs | Heart Health
A Cardiologist's Tips for Staying Healthy During the COVID-19 Outbreak
older couple doing yoga at home

Many of my patients are asking how they can stay healthy in the setting of COVID-19.  They are concerned because they have read that those with heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes may be at an even higher risk for serious illness from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19, which is also called SARS-CoV-2). 

And they are right to be concerned. The very early (meaning, it can change) information suggests that being older, having heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as lung disease, HIV, being immunocompromised, and being pregnant may all predict a more severe COVID-19 illness.

But that does not mean that you are helpless when it comes to minimizing your risk of COVID-19.

The prevention strategies that have been discussed over and over are critically important.

  • Social isolation
  • Frequent and proper hand-washing technique
  • Avoiding crowds. And others, particularly if they are sick
  • Not shaking hands
  • Avoid touching your face, eyes, and nose

These are all incredibly important, but they are not all that you can do.

Good Health Habits: Even More Important

Good health habits are always important, but take on additional urgency considering the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We want our bodies and immune system to be at their strongest, yet the barriers to healthy behaviors are even higher right now.  Gyms are closed, our patterns are disrupted, and the anxiety and stress may be affecting our sleep.  Combine this with losing some of our stress-relieving outlets like church, social gatherings, sports, or even going out for dinner, and it’s easy to see how our health habits can slip, even at a time when they should be a high priority.

Here are the five most important tips I share with my patients to help them stay strong and healthy through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Get your sleep.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your health will suffer. Most people need 7-9 hours a night. The important thing to avoid is the “I will sleep when I’m dead” approach. I’m not joking when I say that this approach may get you there sooner than you’d like.

Stay active.

Gyms are closed (as they should be right now), but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active. Go for a walk, do some bodyweight exercises (like push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees) or follow an exercise or yoga class online. It’s important to do something active every day, even if it’s for 5-10 minutes.

Eat nutritious food.

Packaged foods are convenient, easy to store, and last forever. They are also likely to be ultra-processed and lead to weight gain and poor health. Instead, look for natural foods that you can store for a while. Good choices are canned fish or chicken, canned beans, canned or frozen vegetables, hard cheeses, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits, avocados, berries, and whole grains like oatmeal.

Avoid stress eating. And drinking.

As much as 40% of us are self-described as emotional eaters. Be aware if you are prone to this and be thoughtful when you reach for something to eat. Am I really hungry? Or just bored, anxious, or otherwise stressed? If the answer is that you are not hungry, see if drinking a glass of water or going for a walk will help with your cravings. Also, it’s common to turn to alcohol during times of stress. Notice if your alcohol intake is more than usual, and be aware of ways that your drinking may be affecting your health – like poor sleep, poor food choices when drinking, or not being active the next day because you don’t feel your best.

Practice stress management.

Effective stress management techniques include controlled breathing, meditation, gratitude practice, among many others. Some find physical activity and getting enough sleep to be the most effective stress management technique. Whatever works for you, focus on making it a priority right now. And if you don’t have an established stress management technique, this may be an ideal time to find one!

Better health is often a lower priority in times of stress and turmoil. However, particularly in these days of COVID-19, taking care of your health is not selfish. It’s selfless. Your family and friends need you to stay healthy. We need you to stay healthy.

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R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE

Board-certified cardiologist

R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE, is a board-certified cardiologist, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Health  at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute, and associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. His goal is to help people understand the power they have to avoid the most feared diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and dementia.

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