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COVID-19: How to Keep Yourself Healthy if you are Over 60

The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for everyone, but if you are over 60, you might be at higher risk. Dr. Chuback provides tips on how to keep yourself healthy.

Unfortunately, this is a subject which is very near and dear to my heart. As a Board-Certified cardiothoracic surgeon, I have many friends and colleagues working in hospitals in the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. The very first observation my colleagues working in the NY Metro area ICUs related to me was that most of the patients who were dying from this virus were not only over 60 but also generally obese and morbidly obese.

Tragically, it wasn’t long before I lost a colleague whom I had known for 20 years to this dreaded illness. He was a 64-year-old primary care physician with a very busy practice and died doing what he loved and had committed his life to – taking care of sick people in his community. Many of the patients in his northern New Jersey practice became infected with Covid-19 and he contracted the virus while caring for them.

Ironically, this highly intelligent, capable, and knowledgeable physician had not been taking proper care of himself over the years. He was himself obese with numerous medical problems. When the illness affected him, he was not in optimal physical condition to fight the infection and did not pull through. This devastated thousands of people in our area. It may have been avoidable had he been in better health.

My advice for anyone, especially those over 60, is to take excellent care of yourself. Do everything in your power to keep your body as lean, fit, and strong as you possibly can. If you have not been doing so in the past, hopefully this terrible period we are all going through will help some people to open a new chapter in their life where nutrition and conditioning are concerned. This very dark cloud must have some potential silver lining if life makes any sense at all.

First and foremost, exercise daily. Walking 30 – 60 minutes is a fantastic routine for general cardiovascular fitness and endurance. Calisthenics, resistance training and core strengthening are also strongly advised for overall wellness.

With regard to nutrition I suggest you eat a restricted calorie and well-balanced diet. There are many excellent websites and online sources where you can easily calculate your ideal body mass index (BMI) and the necessary calories to achieve and maintain that weight. I strongly suggest you take full advantage of this information and begin working toward those goals immediately. I believe a light, lean you, will be best suited to fend off disease of all kinds.

My advice is not new. These are well known fundamentals of healthy eating, but under these terrible circumstances it’s well worth repeating and reinforcing. Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables – preferably organic if possible. Wash everything exceptionally well with soap and water. Do this not only to remove any potential Covid-19 contamination from the surface but other transmissible microorganisms, chemicals, and pesticides as well.

A variety of brightly colored plant material will ensure you are getting the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain a robust immune system. Eat a high fiber diet. Look for vegetarian options with healthy amounts of zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A.

With regard to protein, avoid animal sources which are particularly high in saturated fats. Lean fish, chicken and protein are all excellent possibilities. Choose what you like and eat it in small portions. Vegetarians can get plenty of protein protein from beans and grains of course.

Avoid simple sugars and simple carbohydrates. Again, eat small quantities of complex non-processed carbohydrates in your diet. 

Drink plenty of filtered or bottled water at least 8 glasses per day. Avoid soft drinks of all kinds but especially those with high levels of sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Please keep alcohol consumption to a minimum if you drink. Alcohol is not only potential injurious to your liver, pancreas, and heart when taken in high volumes but also acts as a dis-inhibitor so you are likely to eat more mindlessly and taken in unwanted calories when drinking. Alcohol can also act as a depressant and demotivator so you are less likely to partake in your daily exercise routine.

At this critical time in our history it is more important than ever that we take very good care of our bodies. The healthier we are, the better our chances of surviving any infectious disease. Being overweight or obese is definitely recognized as a significant risk factor in surviving Covid-19. It is never too soon, or too late, to start taking better care of yourself. I certainly wish my friend had. He will be greatly missed by so many forever.

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