Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant
In 2021, we’re all aware that wearing a face covering, practicing social distancing, and frequently washing our hands can lower our risk of contracting COVID-19. But did you also know that there are other steps you can take to stay healthy by lowering your risk of COVID-19 complications? Here are surprising ways to lower that risk.
1. Get plenty of Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is technically not a vitamin; it’s a hormone that regulates several key functions in your body. It regulates calcium and phosphorus to help your teeth, bones, and muscles stay healthy. It also promotes the health of cells in your immune system, making your immune response to viruses and bacteria more effective. And it prevents an exaggerated inflammatory response that has been known to cause severe complications in COVID-19 patients and an increased risk of death.
Researchers found that 80% of patients with COVID-19 had low Vitamin D levels. Another study showed that 60% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were Vitamin D deficient and had a nearly four-fold risk of dying from COVID-19 complications.
On the other hand, another study done in patients ages 40 years and up showed that patients with an adequate level of Vitamin D in their system had a 51.5% lower risk of dying from COVID-19 than their Vitamin D-deficient counterparts.
Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin” because your body can synthesize it when your skin is exposed to sunlight. You can also boost your Vitamin D levels by incorporating Vitamin-D-rich foods into your diet, including fatty fish like salmon and herring, mushrooms grown in sunlight or UV light, and foods that have been fortified with Vitamin D like milk, cereal, and orange juice. There are also quality Vitamin D supplements you can take if you’re not getting enough from sunlight or your diet.
2. Make sure your blood pressure is well-controlled.
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is the most common pre-existing condition in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, affecting as many as 50% of admitted patients.
Hypertension can cause restricted blood flow to the heart and kidneys. It also puts added strain on the heart, which has to pump harder to overcome the increased pressure in the arteries.
When patients with hypertension develop an infection like COVID-19, their body experiences added stress, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular complications like heart attacks and strokes.
To lower your risk from hypertension-related COVID-19 complications, make sure you keep up with your preventive health visits, which include a measurement of your blood pressure. And if you do have hypertension, make sure you take your medication as directed, monitor your blood pressure, and follow other lifestyle recommendations, including a healthy diet and regular exercise.
3. Monitor your blood sugar.
Patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of COVID-19 complications, especially if their blood sugar isn’t well controlled. Studies have shown that of all patients who went to the hospital for COVID-19 symptoms, 25% of them had diabetes.
Diabetes increases COVID-19 complications because elevated blood sugar weakens the immune system and damages vital organs, including the heart and kidneys. Diabetes can also lead to poor circulation, making tissues and organs throughout the body more susceptible to damage. In addition, diabetes can cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances, which make conditions like pneumonia and sepsis more difficult to manage.
To decrease your risk of blood sugar-related COVID-19 complications, make sure you keep up with your preventive health visits since blood work that measures your glucose levels is often part of these appointments. If you are diagnosed with diabetes, make sure you take your medication as directed, closely monitor your blood sugar, lower your intake of simple carbohydrates and sugar, and follow up with your healthcare provider at recommended intervals.
4. Maintain a healthy weight.
Patients who are overweight (BMI > 25) or obese (BMI > 30) have an increased risk of COVID-19 complications for several reasons.
First, obesity causes a state of constant inflammation, which weakens the immune system. Second, obesity often causes other conditions that increase COVID-19 complications, including hypertension and diabetes. Also, overweight and obese patients have decreased lung capacity, which makes them more susceptible to lung infections like pneumonia and makes it more difficult to ventilate their lungs.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best ways you can prevent COVID-19 complications. Get plenty of exercises, and eat a healthy, nutritious diet that doesn’t exceed your recommended caloric intake. Also, getting plenty of sleep and managing your stress levels can also help lower your risk of obesity and inflammation.
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