Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have helped slow the spread of COVID-19 and prevented many from contracting the virus. But these restrictions can also lead people to develop unhealthy habits that increase a person’s risk for chronic disease and cancer.
We spoke with Tulane primary care physician, Dr. Ruchana Sus about these health pitfalls and what you can do to get back on track.
A sedentary lifestyle
There’s no way around it. Spending too much time sitting is bad for your health.
“Studies have shown that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and early death,” states Dr. Sus. “It’s important to try to get up and move whenever possible. Even small amounts of movement can help improve your health.”
Exercise has many benefits including:
- It’s essential to maintaining a healthy weight
- It can decrease your risk of premature death
- Reduce your risk for colon cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke
- Decreases your risk for dying from heart disease
- Reduce stress, depression and anxiety
- Can help build healthy muscles, bones and joints
“Walking is a great way to begin an exercise regimen. It is free, easy and great for you physically, emotionally and mentally,” describes Dr. Sus.
Before beginning an intense workout regime talk to your primary care physician. They can help you determine a program that is appropriate for your fitness level and goals.
“It’s best to start off slow and gradually increase the frequency and intensity levels, says Dr. Sus. “There are also a lot of internet based fitness programs now that you can do with minimal equipment and in the comfort and safety of your own home.”
Poor eating habits
Comfort food is not so comfortable in the long run. Consuming too many calories or the wrong type of calories can lead to weight gain and obesity which is linked to premature death and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer and other disease. Try to eat a well-balanced diet by increasing your fruits, vegetables and lean protein and by reducing saturated fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates.
But changing eating habits can be challenging. Preparing healthy meals can be more time consuming than picking up fast food. But in the long run, the time is worth it.
“We tell people to try and make small, gradual changes. This can make that change easier to manage and stick to,” states Dr. Sus.
Increased stress and anxiety
Between working from home, tending to children and not seeing friends and family – 2020 has been stressful to say the least.
Anxiety can also cause the following and lead to worsening heart disease:
- Higher blood pressure
- Faster heart rates
- Changes in blood vessels
- Blood clots
“Managing stress is something we need to do daily,” says Dr. Sus.
Some tips to help you manage stress include:
- If you are working from home, make sure to have a start and stop time for work.
- Spend some time outside. Enjoy the fresh air, sunlight and sounds of nature.
- Get the proper amount of sleep.
- Stay in touch with friends and family.
- Practice self-care.
- Techniques like mindfulness, meditation (prayer if religious), and/or yoga can be helpful.
Too much screen time
With people staying home more often, many have turned to binge watching TV and spending more time on the internet. But too much screen time can lead to unhealthy habits that can cause obesity, irregular sleep and impaired social skills. Try to be aware of how much time you are spending in front of a screen and set limits.
Skipping healthcare visits
Your health should never be put on hold. Delaying medical care can have dire consequences.
“Across all of HCA Healthcare there has been a decrease in emergency room visits since the start of the pandemic,” explains Dr. Sus. “This is concerning because strokes and heart attacks aren’t happening less, people are just avoiding or delaying essential care which can lead to poorer outcomes.”
But it isn’t just emergency care that shouldn’t be delayed. Routine visits and screenings are essential to catching issues early and preventing progression.
“Delaying cancer screenings can lead to cancer being caught at a later stage when it is more difficult to treat,” says Dr. Sus. “And regular check-ups with your primary care doctor or specialists are essential to preventing or managing chronic conditions.”
A safe place for the healthcare you need
At Tulane Health System, we’re dedicated to the health and safety of our patients, visitors and colleagues. We have advanced safety protocols in place to help keep you safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and flu season.