The COVID-19 pandemic upended the world in spring 2020, and 18 months later, it is still very much a part of daily life.
According to Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, “The experience has been tough on all of us. However, like with any experience, even displeasing ones, we have a lot to learn from it, and even some things to gain.”
One thing we can agree on is that the pandemic has been a wake-up call for increased awareness on the importance of our own health.
While anyone can get COVID-19, we know now that the risk of developing severe symptoms is higher among people with health problems such as heart and lung conditions, obesity, high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and diabetes.
Many of these health problems are linked to lifestyle-related risk factors such as unhealthy nutrition, physical inactivity, smoking, stress, and excessive alcohol consumption. “However, the good news is that most of these risk factors are modifiable, meaning they can be decreased if we make lifestyle changes,” Hays explains.
By making healthy tweaks to our daily routines — improving our diet, maintaining a healthy weight, being more physically active and quitting tobacco use — we can significantly reduce our risk of getting severe COVID-19, which can lead to hospitalization and even death.
“One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is that being stuck at home forced us to make significant lifestyle changes without necessarily realizing it,” says Hays.
“We are cooking more at home and inadvertently eating better; we are spending more time outdoors; we are experimenting with new workouts or increasing exercise frequency; and we are engaging in self-care activities,” she explains.
“In addition, the pandemic motivated us to pay better attention to our emotional and mental health. We embraced techniques such as meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, and just staying positive to help us build resilience and reduce the toll of stress, grief and anxiety during emotionally demanding times.”
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives, but it also offered some valuable lessons. It taught us that taking care of ourselves and attending to our health is more important than ever. Knowing that certain risk factors increased the risk of serious complications from COVID-19 led many to make improvements in their lifestyle and more informed decisions.
“And if anything, maybe we can at least be grateful for that,” says Hays. “Because finding a silver lining and small wins to celebrate during challenging times is what we need to continue to move forward and eventually thrive in this new reality.”
She adds, “One of the lessons we can hopefully learn from the pandemic is that investing in our own health is perhaps the best investment we can make in the fight against COVID. Our health is directly related to our lifestyle. Making and adhering to modifications to our lifestyle — from nutrition and physical activity, to managing weight and stress levels — can keep us as healthy as possible and help our immune system stay strong.”