There has been a lot of news coverage recently regarding specific risk factors that make us more vulnerable to Covid-19. Why do some people experience no symptoms, whereas for others, the virus can lead to serious complications? Research is ongoing into possible genetic factors, however it’s clear from the data so far that lifestyle-related factors play a huge part in outcomes for different people. As we return to work after lockdown, what are the key risk factors you should know about, and what two things can you do to minimise each one?
1. Metabolic health
What we know so far: Having a BMI over 30, which is the case for 1 in 3 British adults, doubles the risk of needing hospital treatment for Covid-19. Diabetes and high blood sugar are also closely connected to complications.
- Set yourself a goal to reduce sugar in your diet wherever you can: if you have it in tea or coffee, start by halving the amount you add, and check food and drink labels for sugar content. Ideally savoury foods should contain no sugar or under 5gram per 100g and no more than 15gram for sweet foods. 4 grams equates to one teaspoon-full so they can add up very quickly.
- Stock up on some great store cupboard essentials that will keep cravings for carbs and sweet foods at bay. This is especially helpful when you’re working from home and the kitchen is all too well within reach. Think hummus, chopped raw veg, nuts, seeds, low sugar fruit such as berries, peaches and apples.
2. Immune health
What we know so far: Vitamin D deficiency is a huge risk factor for developing severe symptoms. In great part due to its effect on our inflammatory response, which is what goes wrong in Covid-19 complications (you may have read about the ‘cytokine storms’ that can damage the lungs and other organs). It’s very common in the UK to have low levels of vitamin D, particularly for people with dark skin or if you spend a lot of time indoors.
- Get a Vitamin D check. It’s always sensible to get a test done before taking Vitamin D supplements. This can be arranged by your local GP or you can order tests online that you can do at home.
- Increase anti-inflammatory foods. Aim to have oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and salmon at least 3 times a week for its omega-3 fat content, and eat as many colourful plant foods as possible. Keeping a weekly count of what you have, listed by colour, can be very eye opening and motivating.
3. Mental health
What we know so far: Data from a survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics at the start of the lockdown shows that almost half of the population of Great Britain (49.6%) reported high levels of anxiety. The WHO has since warned about the long-term effects of social isolation, fear of contagion and loss of family members, on top of the distress caused by financial worries.
As we return to work, looking after our mental health is more important than ever.
- Take time out, if possible each day, for a walk. There’s little that’s more powerful than the combination of sunlight, exercise and nature (if within reach) to lift mood and dissipate stress.
- Having a structure in place is really helpful when you work from home, so plan your day and develop a new routine that works for you, getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, and saving blocks of time for breaks, exercise and catching up with friends and family.
4. Sleep and Recovery
A recent Sleep Council survey found that ‘Corona-anxiety’ is keeping three quarters of us awake at night, with a third of us experiencing more vivid dreams. Sleep is vital for all the areas of health we’ve already mentioned. A bad night’s sleep will sabotage your metabolism, making you feel hungry for comfort foods. It will deplete your immune system’s T cells, which help your body fight off infection, and it will also disrupt neurotransmitters and stress hormones, affecting your brain and your mood.
- Try to put away your phone at least one hour before bed as the blue light emitted from the screen affects the body clock and our ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Taking a break from the news before bed certainly won’t do you any harm.
- Topping up magnesium levels can be a great help. This trace mineral known for its strong relaxing properties can be found in many unprocessed foods (particularly green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, legumes). It’s also particularly well absorbed through the skin. An Epsom salt bath half an hour before bed will do wonders to help you unwind.
Do you want to support your employees to make a measurable difference to their health in these 4 areas?
Check out our health conditioning programme, now available as a series of webinars, as additional options such as health coaching, online forums and competitions.
Hongliang Li. Association of Blood Glucose Control and Outcomes in Patients with COVID-19 and Pre-existing Type 2 Diabetes. Cell Metabolism, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2020.04.021
Docherty A et Al. Features of 16,749 hospitalised UK patients with COVID-19 using the ISARIC WHO Clinical Characterisation Protocol. MedRxiv preprint doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.23.20076042
Kenny RA et Al. Vitamin D and Inflammation: Potential Implications for Severity of Covid-19. Irish Medical Journal, 2020; 113 (5): P81
Smith L et Al. The role of vitamin D in the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 infection and mortality. Aging Clinical and Experimental Research, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s40520-020-01570-8
Backman V et Al. The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients. medRxiv, Posted April 30, 2020
Hanif W et Al. Is ethnicity linked to incidence or outcomes of covid-19? BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1548, Published 20 April 2020
HealthEuropa article. Mental Health Awareness Week: COVID-19 mental health research, 19th May 2020
BMJ article. Mental health services must be boosted to deal with “tsunami” of cases after lockdown, 16th May 2020
Sleep Council article. How Sleep Strengthens Your Immune System, 28th April 2020.
Harvard Health article. Sleep and mental health, 18th March 2019