A Lifestyle Medicine Approach to COVID-19

We share your concern about the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. It is important during this challenging time to practice self-care. Be informed, but balanced. It is important to limit over-exposure to the non-stop news cycle to prevent worry and overwhelm. Stress and anxiety about current events can lead to physical tension that builds up in the body and can trigger a host of health problems. Totally eliminating worry can be impossible but it’s important to explore ways to lessen the worry habit. Pause several times throughout the day to take a few calming breaths. The practice of mindfulness can help us to recognize thought patterns that lead to distress. Sit quietly and observe your thoughts without engaging them as you focus on your breath. Over time you will be able to detach from your reactions as you observe your thoughts. Find ways to invite more calm and relaxation into every day through yoga, deep breathing, reading, walking in nature, etc.

Self-care is not selfish care. During these trying times it is important to support others in our communities by sharing available resources and helping our neighbors.   

While social distancing, frequent hand washing, and not touching your face are important for slowing the spread of the disease, we can further reduce risk by employing the pillars of Lifestyle Medicine. We share these tips from our friends at Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute.

Recommendations:

  • Nutrition – Move as far toward a whole-food, plant-based diet as you can.  In particular, eat lots of leafy greens, vegetables and fruits across a rainbow of colors, and eliminate animal products. This will help develop a healthy microbiome, reduce inflammation, and give you a spectrum of micronutrients to maximize health.
  • Activity – Exercise daily, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day.  Make sure that you work up a sweat.  This virus has the highest impact on people’s hearts and lungs, so you want to make sure that they are in as good shape as possible if you get the virus.
  • Substances – Avoid smoking, vaping, or inhaling any substance, which can be toxic to the lungs.
  • Sleep – Sleep is critical for your immune system.  Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, and to wake up rested.  Go to bed at a regular time.  Make sure your room is cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable.  Avoid screens at least 90 minutes before bedtime.  Develop a “wind down” ritual, like listening to soft music, writing in a journal, or reading a book.
  • Stress – This is a stressful time.  Managing stress is important to reduce cortisol levels and optimize your immune system.  Some things to consider in reducing stress:  talk with friends and family; practice mindfulness and meditation; do deep breathing exercises. If you find that your stress is becoming unmanageable, seek help sooner rather than later.
  • Relationships – This is an important time to support and be supported by the people you love. Be kind; listen to each other; express your feelings and listen to the feelings of others.  Call friends. Try to help neighbors or others who may need a hand.
  • Time outdoors – being outside is calming.  And you can walk with a friend and still maintain social distancing! (Just stay 6 feet away.) Try to get outside every day, especially during the middle of the day.
  • Meaning and purpose – This is a time for reflection, as well as a time for action.  Reach out to others, to see if there is a way you can help.  If you are religious, use the power of prayer.
  • Positive emotions / finding joy – There is a saying that “It’s better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the dark.”  Be that candle.  Find the moments of joy and light, even if they are few and far between.  Think about all the things you are grateful for.  Smile and laugh when you can. Your immune system will thank you!

We look forward to seeing this through together! Thank you.

Ted Barnett, MD, FACLM
Partner, Borg & Ide Imaging
Board Member, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
Founder and CEO, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Group
Founding President, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute

Susan Friedman, MD, MPH
Staff Physician, Highland Hospital
Professor of Geriatric Medicine, UR School of Medicine and Dentistry
Medical Director, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Group
Director of Clinical Research, Rochester Lifestyle Medicine Institute

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