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American Health & Wellness: Can We Actually Fight A Pandemic?
Posted: Mar 24, 2020
American Health & Wellness: Can We Actually Fight A Pandemic? image

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With the COVID-19 pandemic expanding in the United States, we need to take measures to prevent exposure and lower risk. These measures can include avoiding public places and large groups of people, washing hands frequently and correctly, self-quarantining and social distancing. Surely, these practices can be effective in keeping us safe and healthy. But how safe can we truly be when the American underlying culture of health has foundational shortcomings?

“…Our baseline health as a country makes us more susceptible to not only getting the virus but also succumbing to it. There is plenty of evidence and studies on the common flu and colds that have warned us that as a country we are just not mentally or physically fit to fight a pandemic,” –Rami Bailony, MD.

The first factor that impacts our ability to fight a pandemic as Americans is the ongoing obesity epidemic in our country. It is projected that by 2030, nearly half of the U.S. population will suffer from obesity. Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of respiratory infections, as well as an increased severity of infections. “During the 2009 H1N1 epidemic, obesity was discovered as a "novel" risk factor for severe cases requiring ICU care,” and 61% of H1N1 deaths occurred within the obese population. Studies in a previous article show a decreased immune function within obese individuals, which also affects the ability to fight infection.

Another factor that can affect our fight against COVID-19 is a sedentary lifestyle. Modernization and technological advances have greatly reduced activity levels in our society.

“A 2013 study showed that for every 5% increase in physical inactivity the rate of influenza-related hospitalization goes up by 7%,” –Dr. Bailony.

Another study of individuals over the age of 50, those who participated in an organized 8 week exercise program before the cold/flu season resulted in 35% less cold/flu symptoms and 47% less sick days taken.

A third factor that puts us at risk is our diet—specifically our low fruit and vegetable intake. Less than 10% of Americans meet the CDC’s daily standard for vegetable consumption. A study of older adults “randomized to a diet high in vegetables for 16 weeks prior to receiving a vaccine had greater antibody response to the vaccine,” which could mean that that vegetable intake increases the immune response.  

The last factor affecting our chance against COVID-19 is psychological stress. At least 50% of Americans reportedly suffer from acute or chronic stress. Stress, especially chronic stress, greatly affects our bodies’ immune response.

“In 13 studies, psychological stress was demonstrated to be associated with decreased antibody response to influenza vaccine… In another study, people who received an eight-week mindfulness meditation class right before cold and flu season had 33% fewer infections and had 66% fewer missed workdays,” –Dr. Bailony.

So, what can we do?

Along with sanitation and isolation protocols,

  • Exercise regularly
  • Move your body frequently throughout the day (join the Muscles for Myeloma challenge!)
  • Eat nutritiously
  • Relax mentally

“After we emerge from this crisis, one key question we will need to grapple with is whether our healthcare system will wake up to address the obesity and lifestyle epidemics that are wreaking havoc at the foundations of our health and wellness,” –Dr. Bailony.

The author Erika Johnson

about the author
Erika Johnson

Myeloma Crowd Editorial Contributor, Nursing student, and cancer advocate.

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