Kelly C. Epps-Anderson, MD, MSHP, FACC
Interventional Cardiology and Structural Heart Disease
Medical Director, Inova Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center
Inova Heart and Vascular Institute
8081 Innovation Park Drive
MAINTAINING HEART HEALTH DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
As we prepare for another surge in the COVID-19 pandemic this winter, remaining committed to your heart health is more important than ever. Patients with cardiovascular diseases are at higher risk for hospitalization and death due to severe COVID-19 infection. But even for those without pre-existing heart disease, paying attention to cardiovascular risk is critical during this time. The pandemic has challenged our usual routines and our sense of connectivity, which can have a direct impact on our cardiovascular health. Depression, loneliness, lack of motivation, boredom, stress, anxiety, and fear – all of these emotions have been heightened during the pandemic and can lead to overeating, physical inactivity, weight gain, and elevated blood pressure – all risk factors associated with unfavorable cardiovascular outcomes.
Below are 5 tips for maintaining heart health during the pandemic:
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. It is important to get outdoor exercise when ever possible. Consider early morning walks to avoid crowds or long hikes outside of the city on the weekends. It is extremely important to continue regular physical activity for both your physical and mental health. With gym closures and restrictions, maintaining ideal cardiovascular health has been a challenge for many during the pandemic. If you are unable to get outside, exercise at home by climbing stairs, joining online fitness classes, or teaming up with a virtual trainer to incorporate exercise into your new routine.
Feelings of isolation can be detrimental to your health. Studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It is important to seek ways to stay linked virtually with your family, friends, and community while staying safe and maintaining social distancing.
Stay committed to healthy eating
Snacks and comfort food have found a more regular place in our diets as we cope with the pandemic. Be mindful of these changes and re-commit yourself to heart healthy eating. Consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains to maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure. Consider tracking your calories throughout the day to identify areas for improvement and planning your meals.
Stay in touch with your doctors
The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened routine health maintenance visits. Early in the pandemic, there was a significant decline in outpatient visits as non-urgent appointments were postponed in an effort to reduce the potential for transmission of the virus to patients and healthcare workers. However, annual visits are important for long-term health and wellness, as they allow your doctor to check-in on chronic conditions and screen for cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Don’t delay your routine health maintenance visit another year due to the pandemic. For those who are in high-risk groups or have concerns about in-person contact, ask your doctor about virtual options. Recently, telemedicine has emerged as an effective way to communicate with your healthcare providers during the pandemic.
Stay vigilant about non-COVID related illness and seek emergency treatment
Heart disease is the number 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Unfortunately, emergency room visits for acute heart attacks and stroke declined during the COVID-19 pandemic and rates of at home cardiac arrests increased, suggesting delays in seeking emergency medical care. These delays may in part be due to fear of exposure to COVID-19 at hospitals. The American Heart Association recently launched the Don’t Die in Doubt campaign to inform the public that hospitals are the safest place to be if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit to learn about signs and symptoms of heart attack and stroke.
HEART ATTACK SYMPTOMS
- Chest discomfort that can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Other signs may include a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness
If you think someone is having a stroke, think F.A.S.T.
- Face drooping on one side or numb
- Arm weakness
- Speech that’s slurred, difficulty speaking
- T stands for time to call 911
HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND DON’T FORGET THESE 5 STAYS
- Stay ACTIVE
- Stay CONNECTED
- Stay COMMITTED TO HEALTHY EATING
- Stay IN TOUCH WITH YOUR DOCTORS
- Stay VIGILANT