#WorldHeartDay is celebrated annually on 29 September and we, at Campus Health Service, #UseHeart despite the COVID-19 Lockdown to spread the word about what you can do to protect your heart. The theme for 2020 from the World Heart Federation is #UseHeart to prevent heart break. COVID has caused enough of that already…
However, are you aware that COVID and heart health are closely linked? The same risk factors for heart disease such as diabetes, hypertension and heart rhythm problems are also the factors placing people at higher risk of severe COVID infections. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the chances of developing these illnesses and to help you get them under control.
Firstly, do not be afraid to go and see your doctor! All medical practitioners are going out of their way to make their consultation rooms a safe space in these COVID times, with masks, physical distancing, extra cleaning, screening for COVID symptoms etc. If you or your loved ones have a chronic disease or are worried you may be developing one, please consult with your doctor. It is much easier to get to the root of a problem in a face to face consultation with a doctor or a primary health care practitioner than over the phone. It is also important to get a physical check-up when you have your repeat consultations for chronic conditions. During these checks, doctors are actively looking for complications of the disease and are able to ask questions on your lifestyle and help you with managing the illness.
Another way COVID is linked to your heart health is that COVID has a higher rate of heart and blood vessel related complications than influenza. One of these complications known as myocarditis is when the infection directly attacks your heart muscle, and it can lead to heart failure if not recognized and treated early. One thing you can do to prevent infectious myocarditis is to never exercise while you are ill, if you have a fever or body aches, or a chest-related cough or tight chest. Also give yourself a longer recovery time after a COVID infection before resuming exercise (at least 21 days). People and athletes wanting to return to high intensity exercise should have a detailed check-up with their doctor, which includes blood tests and heart tests like an ECG.
So, what else can you do to reduce your chance of getting COVID and improve your general health?
Moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise (where you can talk out loud but cannot sing) performed continuously for a minimum of 30 minutes a day has been proven to improve your mood. By cardiovascular exercise, we are talking about exercise that gets your heart rate going faster continuously, like walking, jogging, dancing, swimming, cycling, surfing, martial arts etc.
It’s a stress buster and is equivalent to first line anti-depressants in treating anxiety and depression. In addition, it improves your immunity - exactly what you need during this time! Please be aware, however, that high intensity exercise (when you can’t talk while exercising) temporarily reduces your immunity. This means, if you like to push it while exercising, be very careful where you go in the couple of hours after that high intensity exercise e.g. avoid getting into a taxi or a crowded place. Exercise also helps control sugar levels, reduces the chance of developing diabetes, stabilizes blood pressure reducing the chance of developing hypertension, reduces your chances of getting a heart attack or stroke, plus prevents a host of other illness like cancers etc.
There are also loads of benefits of strength exercises, which should be done at least twice a week with body weight resistance (you don’t need gym access for this!). Yoga and Pilates would also fall in this category. Rock climbing is a bit of cross over between both types.
If you do a sport not listed and you are wondering where it classifies, and you have a heart rate monitor, take note of whether your heart rate stays high throughout the exercise or if it drops to normal in between. The cardiovascular effects will be with the former not the latter.
The question is, what are you waiting for?
If you have a pre-existing illness and want more specific advice, please consult your doctor. A biokineticist specializes in using exercise to treat illness so if you’re hesitant to start exercising on your own, consult with them they can also help you get back to your exercise after an injury or illness. At Campus Health Service (CHS), we have Clinical Nurse Practitioners, who are primary health care trained. We have GPs, Sports Medicine Practitioners and Physiotherapists. The Biokineticists are our neighbors in the Sport Science building. Contact us to make an appointment 021 808 3496
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