We are now several weeks into the COVID-19 situation. This has certainly been a trying time for all of us and we are learning how to do things in ways we never expected. Maybe one of the most important realities we’ve seen as a medical community is how our individual health predicts our risk of illness from the COVID-19. We now know that the vast majority of those hospitalized (or pass away) with COVID-19 have underlying health problems like hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, diabetes mellitus, and coronary heart disease.
While those of us providing medical care need to continue coaching our patients about how to address those underlying issues that cause disease, there are a lot of things we can do today to make ourselves less vulnerable to COVID-19 and any other bugs or bacteria we encounter. New viruses crop up all the time, so our immune system needs to be powered up to resist whatever comes our way.
This applies to those of you with orthopedic conditions as well. Being well-nourished reduces inflammation in your body, which helps your joints, muscle aches and even how your brain helps you balance. Wholesome food can improve your sleep, help get toxins out of your body and can most definitely improve your mental health.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about hand washing and social distancing, but since you may not be hearing much about immune boosting, my staff and I wanted to share a few suggestions for how to power up.
Sugar. When money is scarce, it’s easiest to buy the cheapest items, which tend to be carbohydrates. Carbs are broken down into sugar. Sugar suppresses the immune system. It might be tempting to turn to comfort food during this time, but taking the sugar out of your diet will really help your immune system. If you have a craving for something sweet and crunchy in the afternoon, reach for a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.
Food as medicine. The most important immune supportive vitamins are Vitamins A, C, and D, so leafy greens, vegetables and fruits are hugely important as are garlic, onions and spices. Vitamin D production is stimulated by our good friend the sun, so being outdoors is critical. Take daily walks and if your fussy knee makes that difficult, sit on the front porch and bask in the sun.
Vitamins. Even people who eat a pretty wholesome diet probably aren’t getting enough of the right nutrients. This is a great time to get in the habit of taking a daily multi-vitamin, along with Vitamin D3 and fish oil.
Exercise. You hear this a lot from me and public health experts. Getting your heart rate up for 30-45 minutes a day upregulates your immune system. Do yoga, floor exercises, work in the garden. There are lots of on-line programs that are being offered for free. Most importantly, try something you like and find ways to make it part of your daily routine.
Social connection. Being away from others can increase depression and anxiety which suppresses the immune system. So yes, FaceTime and Zoom with your friends, try a new on-line game, or find a supportive on-line community. It’s good for you!
Respond to stress. Stress increases how likely we are to get hit hard with a virus. Meditation, deep breathing, baths, massage are all great ways to reduce stress. Talk with your family about how you can each make time for these things every day. Even if you don’t feel stressed, take time to breathe deeply several times throughout the day. You might even set an alarm on your phone to remember to drink water, stretch and breathe.
We are open at TOC. Because of the county orders we have a restricted schedule and are seeing patients in person on Tuesday afternoon and all day Thursday. We can also videoconference through Zoom during other business hours and I’m happy to talk by phone. I know several of you are suffering from orthopedic problems that are currently on hold as we sort through this COVID-19 situation. You often hear me say “your rotator cuff tear doesn’t care if you have a job, your ACL tear doesn’t care if you have a soccer showcase in four months.” The same applies for this virus and the current stay-at-home orders.
While your orthopedic problems are not life threatening, they are life altering. We are pushing as hard as possible to move orthopedic care to the forefront.
Obviously there are challenges with the current stay-at-home edicts. But I know my patients are some of the smartest, most motivated creative and inherently self-reliant people around. Please let me know if I can help as you navigate this COVID-19 path. We are always available to talk about orthopedics, sports, or how you’re coping in these unprecedented times.