A year and half has passed since the first case of COVID-19 was found in our islands. We have all learned the importance of masking, social distancing, and hand sanitizing, but there are still many unknowns. Especially as the virus continues to mutate and produce different variants.
In Hawaiʻi, 98% of those who have died from COVID-19 have also had one or more serious medical conditions.
The CDC lists 18 medical conditions that increase the risk of developing severe illness; at least 11 of them are related to lifestyle choices. This includes heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, Type-2 diabetes, stroke, overweight/obesity, dementia, liver disease, certain cancers, and weakened immune systems. The relationship between lifestyle and COVID-19 severity is supported in research that shows that smoking, drinking alcohol excessively, not getting good sleep, being physically inactive, and following a low carb high protein diet all increased risk.
These health conditions and unhealthy lifestyle choices both create inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation weakens the immune system, making us less able to fight off infections. A strong immune system works to fight infections throughout the body, working to prevent viruses from entering your cells, multiplying, and devastating your body’s functions.
Among the vaccinated, making healthy lifestyle choices may also reduce chances of getting breakthrough infections. Studies show that vaccinated individuals with high-risk health conditions or whose lifestyle choices are unhealthy had a greater chance of getting a breakthrough infection, with one study showing almost two-thirds of the people with breakthrough infections had one or more serious health conditions. Another study found that following a more nutritious diet and being at a healthy weight may also help.
Right now, Native Hawaiians have the highest number of COVID-19 infections and among the highest hospitalizations resulting from it. Native Hawaiians also have the highest rates of many of the medical conditions that put them at greater risk. It is our kuleana to our ‘ohana and our communities that we do our best to practice healthy lifestyle habits and to promote the same within our schools, churches, workplaces, and the other places where we live and play. Here are some ideas on what we can do:
- Include more fruits and vegetables in our meals. Try to include at least one cup of leafy greens every day.
- Spend time exercising outdoors. You can also get some vitamin D this way, an important vitamin to boost immunity.
- Quit smoking and drinking. Your life may depend on it.
- Get more rest. Plan for 7-8 hours of sleep. Turn off the phone and pick up a book to reduce the “blue light” that can prevent deep sleep.
- Stress can decrease immune function over time. Seek comfort in your faith, take time to socialize, and spend time outdoors.
Regardless of your opinion in the vaccination debate, we all need to do what we can to be part of the solution to battling this pandemic. Mālama kekahi i kekahi