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These Habits Picked Up During COVID-19 Worth Keeping

May 18, 2021

It's not quite time to look at COVID-19 through the rearview mirror, but it's getting close. For now, let's look at three health takeaways from our year in isolation:

You've Learned How to Avoid a Virus: Don't Forget!

Sick of hearing about hand-washing, masks and social distancing? It works. The flu season essentially vanished last winter. In the Southern Hemisphere, case numbers were so low that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the season ended with "virtually no influenza circulation." COVID-19 numbers were staggering, but they could have been much worse if not for the millions who followed safety protocols. This all-purpose formula can help you avoid getting sick in the next cold-flu-COVID season, which starts in only a few months. “Like influenza and COVID-19, colds spread through the air via droplets expelled when a person sneezes or coughs,” said Dr. Virginia Bieluch, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. You might not wear a mask next winter, but be mindful of crowded public spaces and avoid unnecessary contact with frequently touched surfaces when away from home. Some viruses that cause colds such as rhinoviruses and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), says Dr. Bieluch, can survive longer than the virus that causes COVID-19 on doorknobs, computer keyboards, elevator buttons and other hard surfaces. These germs may even be able to survive a swipe with a disinfecting wipe, she said: “If you touch this contaminated surface and then touch your mouth, nose or eye you can develop a cold.”

Go for a Walk

At the height of the pandemic's cabin fever, you did something crazy -- you started leaving the house for a daily walk! And it felt so good for both mind and body. Don't stop. In fact, start counting steps with a fitness tracker. Health benefits start kicking in at 4,400 steps each day, according to new research at Harvard University on older women welcomed by anyone struggling to keep up with federal guidelines recommending 10,000 steps daily. (A mile is about 2,000 steps.) “This illustrates the importance of being active,” said Dr. Stephanie Saucier, a cardiologist and director of the Women’s Heart Wellness Program at Hartford HealthCare’s Heart & Vascular Institute.

Respect Your Immune System

After the hand-washing and masking, it all comes down to COVD-19 (or any other virus) against your immune system. Immune boosters like vitamins B, C and D and zinc were among the hot sellers in the past year. Here are a few natural ways to boost your immune system:
  • Get a full night's sleep. Getting between seven and eight hours of sleep each night allows the body to produce the infection-fighting cells or antibodies you'll need to fight off illness. “Your body heals best at rest,” said Sabrena Lary and Deanna Barrett, athletic trainers with the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fresh produce helps you body produce the white blood cells that help your body reject infection. Fiber keeps you body fat percentage low, another boost to your immune response. The vitamins in fresh produce also will improve your overall health.
  • Resist high-fat temptations. A high-fat diet isn't good for your white blood-cell count. It can also disrupt the balance of bacteria in your digestive system, making it harder for your immune system to respond.
  • Address your anxieties. “Stress and anxiety have a tremendous impact on our immune system,” said Dr. David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network. “We know excess levels of stress produce hormonal changes that lower the body’s resistance to colds and other infections.” Talk to your primary care provider if you need help.
  • Stay active. Remember those mind-freeing, body-shaping walks?
  • Get out: Sunshine energizes the body's T-cells in the fight against infection. It also gives your body a jolt of vitamin D, an immune booster