In the past year and a half as we mastered the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have become more and more aware of our health and that of our loved ones. We also have a lot of health-related questions and we need a space where we can get scientifically based answers. To give you such a space to voice your questions and concerns, News18.com has developed the “Health Hacks” column, your central information board where all your health questions, especially COVID inquiries, are answered.
The column was written by Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya (MBBS, MD), a medical epidemiologist and leading expert on COVID-19 diseases and vaccines. In this 14-day column, Dr. Lahariya addresses a variety of topics and gives you tailor-made solutions that cater to the health needs of your entire family – children, adolescents, adults and seniors and all other members.
In today’s column, Dr. Lahariya, how our lifestyle choices like drinking, smoking, and sleeping patterns actually affect our COVID-19 recovery.
How have people’s sleeping habits been affected by the long-term COVID virus?
Some reports and studies have shown that the sleep patterns of people with COVID-19 have changed. When we look at the evidence, we see a whole range of sleep-related problems. Some people sleep more than they used to, and sleep disorder specialists have referred to this as “COVID somnia,” and others have trouble sleeping (insomnia) or altered sleep cycles.
Those suffering from the post or long-term COVID symptoms have also reported insomnia, night sweats, and other problems. From insomnia to hypersomnia (excessive sleep), night terrors to sleeping pill abuse, the phenomenon is reported and treated not only in people recovering from COVID-19 but also during this pandemic.
People facing such a problem might be those who may never have contracted COVID-19. This is because it has been affecting the mental health of the individual during the pandemic period and therefore people have sleep and related challenges. We must also remember that any disease condition or illness has not only physical but also psychological effects on health. This is a reminder for everyone to pay attention to both physical and psychological aspects.
Has the pandemic led to increased reliance on medical pills?
Fortunately, there are no reports of this kind from India. However, in some countries, epidemiologists and researchers have observed increases in substance use and drug overdoses since COVID-19. However, it is also the time when the government pays more attention to these issues.
How does alcohol affect people recovering from COVID?
Alcohol abuse can affect our bodies in a number of ways. It can upregulate or extraactivate the immune system, cause inflammation, disrupt and reduce the body’s immune response by downregulating the immune system. Both are not good. We know so many harmful effects of alcohol consumption on the heart and lungs and almost all organs in our body. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage epithelial cells that line the surface of the lungs and is linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome. Ultimately, impaired immune system function and increased susceptibility to respiratory disease could contribute to more severe COVID-19 and a higher risk of death. In addition to the physical effects of alcohol abuse, we must remember that recovery from COVID-19 requires good mental health, and harmful alcohol use, in the end, is not the right way to deal with it. Everyone has to be careful and control their drinking habits.
Does a sedentary lifestyle play a role in delaying recovery from COVID?
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, the sedentary lifestyle is the risk factor for many health conditions. Now the sedentary lifestyle leads to comorbidities, which leads to poor results of a SARS-CoV2 infection. As a risk factor for severe COVID-19 illness, physical inactivity has only been surpassed by old age and a history of organ transplants. We all need to adopt four healthy behaviors: regular mental activity, eating healthy, quitting smoking, and avoiding harmful alcohol use. We can assume these four risk factors for cardiovascular diseases; We reduce our risk of heart attacks and other related illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic is our opportunity to commit to healthier lifestyles again. Regular physical activity is a free health intervention. With this, every age group can start at variable times of the day or week. What is more important to start with regular physical activity. Do more today than yesterday and tomorrow more than today, that must be addressed.
Is Excessive Screen Time Harmful During COVID Recovery Process?
Increased screen time in young adults during the COVID-19 pandemic correlates with an increase in pandemic exposure. In addition, longer screen time and limited outdoor activities are associated with the onset and progression of poor eyesight. Therefore, they could potentially worsen during and over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak.
The WHO highlighted that longer screen time replaces healthy behaviors and habits such as physical activity and sleep routine and leads to potentially harmful effects such as reduced sleep or day-night reversal, headaches, neck pain, myopia, digital eye syndrome and cardiovascular risk factors such as: Obesity, high blood pressure and insulin resistance due to the increase in sedentary time in adults. In addition, increased evening screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic has a negative impact on people’s sleep quality.
We need to pay special attention to children during screen time. Very young children shouldn’t have screen time. Very limited screen time is given to children in preschool and elementary schools. However, the online courses have increased exposure. Parents need to be careful about their screen time and in order to reduce their screen time they may need to manage screen time of adults in the family.
Should someone stop smoking during their COVID recovery?
COVID-19 or not, smoking is harmful and everyone should stop smoking. There is plenty of scientific evidence to show the mechanisms by which smoking does harm. People who smoke have twice as many complications after surgery than those who don’t. People who smoke also have much worse problems with wound healing, infection, blood clots, broken bones, and chronic pain. Smoking weakens the immune system, which increases the risk of lung disease. Ultimately, smoking damages the lungs, making the lung tissue inflamed, fragile, and more prone to infection.
In the context of the COVID-19 results, the studies from China then show that smokers who were hospitalized with COVID-19 were three times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit or to die than non-smokers. In the United States, smokers who were hospitalized were twice as likely to die. In addition, a study recently published by the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who smoke are 2.4 times more likely to have severe symptoms of COVID-19 than those who do not smoke.
Can Excessive Drinking of Caffeine Affect Recovery?
Drinking large amounts of coffee, tea, and even caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks have known harmful effects. These can lead to dehydration and negatively affect sleep behavior. Too much caffeine (which is also found in tea and not just coffee) has short-term effects such as anxiety, tremors, palpitations, diarrhea, headaches, indigestion, sleep problems, as well as long-term effects in the form of insomnia, acid reflux, migraine triggers, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome ( IBS) and high blood pressure. This is not the complete list. A good approach can be that everyone should avoid tea or coffee after 6 p.m., and that could be a good, if not a hard rule of thumb.
How do sugar or sugary drinks affect the human body during recovery?
Sugary drinks such as soda, packaged fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates and syrups, flavored milk and yoghurt drinks are harmful to the body as they are not a balanced diet. Studies have shown that most Indian snacks, be it sweet or salty, are very unhealthy. Excessive consumption of free sugars and carbohydrates is very harmful. The excess sugar in our blood affects immune cells and weakens the immune system. It is fertile soil for the growth of bacteria and viruses, which also love such high levels of sugar in our blood. Excessive amounts of sugar, especially refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, can damage the body in the form of insulin resistance. This condition puts the immune system in a vicious circle as the body has to produce more and more insulin to reach the cells. It is therefore important not to consume any nutritionally outdated sugary products. Drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages is an easy way to limit your intake of sugar and excess calories; however, that is easier said than done. Hence, a determined effort and commitment is required to slowly reduce sugar consumption, and it can be done. Make a promise today and you will get off to a great start.
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