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Elderly man sitting in an armchair and watching tv at home

Live healthy, help fight COVID

The other day I was talking with a senior citizen on the phone about COVID-19. He told me, “not a heck of a lot is new. They want us to stay home.”

By “they” of course he was referring to the government.

The senior went on to describe how he was living a relatively sedentary lifestyle that consisted of sitting in a chair, using his iPad and eating. I suggested going for walks outside but that advice fell on deaf ears.

The conversation struck me as a massive missed opportunity on the government’s part.

Since COVID-19 emerged, we’ve heard politicians repeatedly urge Canadians to “wash your hands,” “wear a mask” and “social distance.” We’ve also heard we’re supposed to “stay home.”

These directives have been part of an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce stress on the health care system. We can debate how effective lockdown measures have been, but what can’t be debated is the fact that thousands of people are still contracting COVID-19 every day.

With that in mind, why are we seeing so little from governments when it comes to reducing the chances that someone will need hospitalization if they contract COVID?

The Alberta government’s COVID-19 data includes a striking statistic – 86 per cent of all patients who died from COVID had high blood pressure.

So why not tackle the causes of high blood pressure?

According to WebMD, smoking, too much salt and alcohol in your diet are contributing factors for high blood pressure. Have you heard governments urge the public to cut back on those substances to help fight COVID?

Being overweight and obesity are also listed as contributing factors for high blood pressure. Obviously, someone cannot get in shape over night, but let’s not forget: we’re nine months into the pandemic now.

Perhaps if “exercise and eat healthy” had have been stressed early on by governments, it might have incented some people to kick their exercise goals into high gear and cut back on junk food.

In fact, WorldObesity.org is concerned that COVID-19, and related government measures, could actually make obesity problems worse: “the current pandemic might contribute to an increase in obesity rates as weight loss programmes (which are often delivered in groups) and interventions such as surgery are being severely curtailed at present – and this is likely to go on for a long period of time.”

WebMD also notes that “a lack of physical activity” is a contributing factor for high blood pressure. The government’s “stay at home” messages, plus the decision to shut down some parks and playgrounds, hasn’t helped.

Finally, another contributing factor for high blood pressure is stress. Imagine if governments had have put forward more positive messages once in a while about beating COVID-19 through healthy living instead of driving hysteria through daily press conferences.

Picture a politician holding a press conference outside while putting on their runners and encouraging the public to go for a walk each day (while social distancing). Couldn’t have hurt.

Make no mistake, some factors for high blood pressure are beyond someone’s control – age and genetics being a couple examples. It’s also true that even otherwise healthy individuals have passed away due to COVID-19.

But it seems clear that encouraging Canadians to live healthier lives could have helped our health care system – even just a bit – in the short-term and the long-term.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to take my own advice and go for a run.

 

Colin Craig is the president of SecondStreet.org, a new Canadian think tank. He’s not a doctor, so please don’t interpret this column as official medical advice.

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