While there are many reasons why people are more or less susceptible to contracting COVID-19, those with underlying medical conditions are more vulnerable. And if you have cardiovascular disease (CVD), you form part of a group that is known as the “risk group” for COVID-19 infection.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), results of a study in China showed that about 20% of 83 COVID-19 patients who died suffered some form of cardiac injury, although it’s unclear whether the virus directly caused this injury to the heart. Of these patients 30%-60% had a history of CVD or hypertension. Having cardiovascular disease and other medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and TB increases your risk for becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Your “health” behaviours also put you at risk…
Smoking and unhygienic practices (more on that below) lead to worse health outcomes. So, here are the HSFSA-approved strategies to protect your heart, mind and overall health.
Healthy eating is super-important RN
According to the HSFSA, food choices and eating habits can start affecting cardiovascular health and immunity in a matter of weeks – whoa! Most of you are familiar with the effect of foods on high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes (back away from the doughnut!), and this is particularly important for those already living with these conditions. Food can also have a pretty profound effect on enhancing or dampening the immune system, changing susceptibility to infection and the body’ ability to fight disease.
So, what should I eat and drink more of, and what should I avoid?
- Aim for a balanced diet (think: a colourful selection of fruit, veggies and legumes, unrefined and processed foods where possible, herbs and spices, and fatty fish).
- Be wary of nutritional supplements or ‘superfoods’ that promise to improve immunity and guard against COVID-19. While nutrients like vitamin C, A, selenium or zinc are needed for a good immune response, no supplement is a miracle worker, and some nutrients can even be counterproductive when taken in larger dosages. If you do take supplements, don’t regularly exceed the recommended daily amounts, or consult with your health professional first.
- The gut microbiome is critical to maintaining the immune system. Plenty of whole grains and probiotics such as yoghurt can help to improve the balance of gut bacteria.
- Rinse foods that you intend to eat fresh and wash your hands thoroughly during food prep and before eating.
And what’s the deal with alcohol and cardiovascular disease?
- Alcohol abuse and binge drinking are known risk factors for heart disease and strokes, but can equally affect immunity, particularly relating to lung health.
- The dampening effect of alcohol on immunity is most pronounced with chronic heavy drinking, but acute binge drinking can make the lungs more susceptible to pathogens like viruses and bacteria too. So, asking for a friend: what constitutes a binge? Binge drinking can mean as little as three drinks in a row, depending on your weight. Evidence suggests drinking only up to seven standard-sized drinks per week, or not at all. Sorry guys.
Stay active (your mind and bod will thank you)
Moderate physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and it plays a vital role in maintaining an optimal immune response. The opposite is true too: excessive or overly-strenuous exercise can suppress the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infection. So, how exactly do you find the balance?
- Keep moving, or start gradually if you’re new to exercise. Try a free online fitness class. Check out Women’s Health SA on YouTube for everything from 15-minute fat burners to super-chillaxing yoga.
- Sleep is essential to manage stress and for our bodies to repair cells, clear toxins etc. Sleep deprivation can have major impact on our health and can increase risk of developing chronic health conditions, like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Social connection is so important too
- Think “physical distancing” not “social distancing” – stay socially and emotionally connected with your loved ones, social and work networks through social media and other communication methods.
- Social isolation can lead to anxiety, especially if you live on your own. Connect with others and reach out to people who care about you and those you care about.
- If you have an existing anxiety, depressive or other mental health condition, continue to take your treatment and stay in contact with people who understand you and what you’re experiencing.
And we’ll just say it again: hygiene, hygiene, hygiene
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Maintain social distance at least one metre between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth, as hands touch many surfaces and pick up viruses and can be transferred.
Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA for tips to stay healthy if you have cardiovascular disease. Call 021 422 1586, or follow www.facebook.com/HeartStrokeSA and www.twitter.com/SAHeartStroke for info/updates.