Tips for a healthy heart during COVID-19 pandemic

Maibam Baby Devi
Currently, the world is in the midst of a pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome corona virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and the illness associated with the infection by SARS-CoV-2 is called COVID-19. There is a strong relationship between cardiovascular system and SARS-CoV-2. Although the risk of contracting COVID-19 may not be greater, however the infection is thought to cause worst outcomes of COVID-19 amongst patient with cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). CVD is responsible for nearly half of all non-communicable diseases deaths making it the world’s number one killer. The main factors which can trigger heart diseases include smoking, air pollution, alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood glucose levels etc.
While COVID-19 affects all age groups, the host predisposing factors significantly determine the illness course, the progression, and the outcome of COVID-19. Therefore, immense care has to be taken for individuals with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and history of stroke, cancers and also the elderly. In order to prevent infection, a healthy immune system is of greatest importance for an optimal immune response. People with co-morbidities should strengthen their immunity and intensify their metabolic control for prevention if not yet infected.
The impact of social distancing, quarantine for containing the COVID-19 outbreaks and lockdown deteriorate the health status of CVDs patients and all these factors exacerbate the risk of developing CVDs among general population as well. So, we need to be prepared to tackle the expected increase in cardiovascular diseases burden during and after the pandemic. In fact, quarantine is linked to depression, anger, and chronic stress due to frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies of basic necessities, financial loss and stigma. These negative emotions are related with systemic inflammation and tend to adopt an unhealthy lifestyle. These conditions can tempt people to eat sugar-rich food and drink alcohol to feel better. This emotional eating perhaps put up excess weight due to overeating. Obesity is considered major risk factors for worst outcome from COVID-19 infection, especially in patients with compromised heart and lung function.
During lockdown, due to fear of future food shortage, people stocked up highly processed foods because of their longer shelf life rather fresh produce. A diet deficient in fruit and vegetable is correlated with low intake of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals; these are the vital nutrients to fight against COVID-19. Furthermore, economic crisis worsens food choices, mainly in individuals of lower socio-economic status; compel them to switch to unhealthy food which are usually cheaper.
Prevention and control of CVDs is generally by following a healthy diet, quit smoking, and reduce alcohol consumption, regular physical exercises, as well as regular monitoring of blood pressure and serum lipid levels. There are some guidelines to follow for a healthy heart in times of COVID crisis:
Dietary and nutritional constituents known to exert anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium as well as phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, carotenoids are recommended. Make sure to stay hydrated, drink at least 3 litre of water per day for older adults including all water contained in food, beverages, and drinking water. Consume whole fruits instead of sugar sweetened juices and limit the intake of carbonated beverages.
Choose unsaturated fats over saturated fats because heart health not only depends on amount of fat but also on the type of fat you consume. Consuming foods rich in unsaturated fat can improve blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart disease. Nuts and seeds such as walnut, almond, pistachios, and flaxseed contain unsaturated fats and are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. Prefer vegetable oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil; fax seed oil, mustard oil, soybean oil over animal fat such as ghee, butter, margarine, because animal fats contain large amount of saturated fat and cholesterol. Cutting down red meat and increasing fish consumption especially sea fishes and sea foods is recommended.
Prefer whole grain cereals such as wheat, rice, maize, millets, and oats over refined flour. It is because whole grains cereals are digested slowly, releases glucose steadily and hence does not cause abrupt spike in blood glucose level.
Consume fruits and vegetables not only because they are a good source of vital nutrients but also dietary fiber, a diet high in fiber can lower bad cholesterol level and thus can help protect against heart disease. It also helps to lose weight because dietary fiber gives a feeling of fullness and helps to avoid overeating. Limit the intake of processed foods because they are loaded with calories, sugar, salt, saturated fats, but low in dietary fiber, and antioxidants, it perhaps impairs host immune response against infections. Reduce salt consumption as it can negatively impact kidney functions. It is one of the major culprits for high blood pressure.
Stay physically active by exercising at home for at least 20 minutes a day. Walking and dancing can be easily done inside the house. Resistance training can be carried out by walking up and down the staircase at home, lifting light and moderate weights items. Take advantage of technologies of today; a high number of health and nutrition applications are available on mobile phone app store which provides healthy diet tips and helps to achieve healthy weight.
During quarantine and isolation people reduce physical activity, and also reduce relaxing activities like yoga. Meditation and deep breaths can help you help to remain calm and reduce stress. Sleep for at least 7 hours for adults. Keep your mind active by engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading books, and solving puzzles.
Follow the guidelines of WHO and lockdown norms laid down by Government. Wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, avoid close contact, and eat heart healthy foods with abundant fruits and vegetables.
Taking care of yourself and your loved ones in the midst of the pandemic is very crucial. So, this year World Heart Day was observed with the theme “Use Heart to Beat CVD”.  It is a pledge to take care of my heart, for your heart, for all our hearts. The World Heart Day is celebrated every year on 29th September, it is a worldwide campaign to increase awareness about CVDs and stroke prevention. The observation of this day was conceptualized by the World Heart Federation with the focus to bring individuals, families, communities and Govt together to fight against CVDs and lower the global disease burden.