Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others have identified the most vulnerable populations for the virus as the elderly and those with age-related diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc. These individuals show a much higher susceptibility to the disease and lower chance of survival. As a recent scientific study reports, these findings establish COVID-19 as an emergent disease of aging, and “age” and “age-related diseases” as its major risk factors (Santesmasses D, et al. 2020). Another study suggests that, in addition to therapeutic approaches that affect the virus directly and its specific pathways, approaches that target the aging process will play a crucial role in reducing the impact of future pandemics (Thomas R. Wood, et al. 2020). Age-related diseases are largely driven by lifestyle factors, such as poor diet, physical inactivity, poor sleep, chronic stress, smoking, substances abuse, lack of social support, as well as other psychosocial factors, etc. Making better choices when it comes to our diet, exercise, sleep and mental health/psychology (the so called “Lifestyle Medicine”) can help prevent or reverse diseases of aging. Even “age” itself, traditionally thought by scientists to be an unmodifiable risk factor for disease and mortality, may be partially modifiable.This happens because essentially, everyone has two ages: a chronological age, that is the actual amount of time a person has been alive, and a biological age, a measure of how well or poorly their body is functioning relative to their actual calendar age.  We can influence our biological age by changing our lifestyle.

Here is what we can do. The following are “actions” you can take daily to strengthen your health, prevent or reverse ageing, and reduce the effect of infections if and when they may occur:

1. Follow A “Mediterranean Diet”

Mediterranean diet has been demonstrated to exert a preventive effect toward cardiovascular diseases; it decreases the risk of diabetes and metabolic-related conditions and plays an important role in preventing certain cancers. In addition, a new field of research has showed that a higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of mental disorders, including cognitive decline and depression.

2. Limit The Hours You Eat Each Day (“Intermittent Fasting”)

Time‐restricted eating improves metabolism, lowering blood sugar and lessens inflammation, which improves a range of health issues from arthritic pain to asthma; and even helps clear out toxins and damaged cells, which lowers risk for cancer and enhances brain function.

3. Exercise Regularly

Several studies have shown that a lifetime of regular exercise slows down aging. Simple walking 10.000 steps per day is a associated with decreased mortality. Beyond that, both resistance training and aerobic exercise are associated with reduced risk of obesity, hypertension, metabolic disease, and survival after critical illness. A recent scientific research showed that loss of muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia) are not so severe in those who exercise regularly as they age. More surprisingly, the study also revealed that the benefits of exercise extend beyond muscle, as people who exercise also have an immune system that does not seem to age either.

4. Improve Your Sleep Quantity And Quality

When it comes to sleep, most people focus on the number of hours they spend in bed (quantity). While that is a good benchmark to start, in order to get the most out of your sleep, you need to focus on the restfulness of your sleep as well (quality). For adults, good quality sleep means that you typically fall asleep in 30 minutes or less, sleep soundly through the night with no more than one awakening, and drift back to sleep within 20 minutes if you do wake up. On the flip side, bad sleep quality is the kind that leaves you staring at the ceiling or counting sheep. It may be characterized by trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, restlessness, and early awakenings. If you have concerns, talk with a Doctor.

5. Cultivate Healthy Relationships

Toxic relationships, loneliness and social isolation are associated with both altered inflammatory processes and increased mortality.

6. Keep Your Brain Active And Positive

Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise, and shouldn’t be neglected. New experiences and learning new things (such as crossword puzzles, learning a musical instrument or exploring a new language, etc.) can set you on the path to mental fitness. Research shows that keeping your brain active increases its vitality. Doing new things in new ways and learning something new appear to help retain brain cells and connections. It may even produce new brain cells. In addition, notice what you love about your life a lot more than what you don’t love. Focusing on negative thoughts changes the brain in a negative way: it decreases activity in several important areas of the brain involving emotions and memory.

I appreciated Dr. Thomas Wood’s take on how to navigate this challenge:

Although improving essential infrastructure will be an important aspect of planning for future pandemics, proactively improving population health will also be crucial in order to minimize the future burden on health care. Lifestyle Medicine is poised to be at the forefront of these efforts and should be increasingly promoted as part of healthcare policy in order to improve the resiliency and health of the population in an unknowable future”.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Valeria Acampora