With the spread of COVID-19, many among us have shifted from “living my best life” to survival mode. Contrary to popular belief, surviving and thriving are not mutually exclusive. In fact, optimizing your health increases your chance of surviving an infection from this virus, and any future viruses that will surely plague (pun fully intended) the world as they have for centuries.
Let’s address the issue at the forefront of everyone’s mind before we dive into the real reasons you should be interested in health optimization: risk of developing COVID-19.
Having underlying health conditions drastically increases your risk of contracting a severe or deadly case of COVID-19.
94% of deaths related to COVID-19 occur in people with underlying health conditions.
8.3% of people with COVID-19 are admitted to intensive care, require intubation, or die from complications related to the virus. This rate more than doubles to 19.3% in people with one comorbidity and is 3.5x higher in people with two or more comorbidities.
The most common comorbidities found in people with COVID-19 are:
Chronic lung disease (COPD, asthma, etc.)
Cardiovascular disease (hypertension, stroke, heart attack, coronary artery disease, etc.)
Interestingly enough, all of the above comorbidities are modifiable diseases linked to lifestyle, and the fourth listed and overarching risk factor: obesity. Beyond COVID-19, modifiable lifestyle diseases are linked to increased risk of other chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, etc.) and death. By encouraging people to take an active approach to health optimization, we can decrease the risk of them developing the above comorbidities, which in the end leaves them at lower risk of dying from any disease, including COVID-19.
Age and COVID-19
But what about age? Being older than 65 and living in nursing homes or long term care facilities are some of the most prominent risk factors for developing and dying from COVID-19!
I encourage you to look at this from a state of overall health.
Yes, elderly people are more likely to contract COVID-19, but they are also typically more unhealthy than their younger counterparts and are more likely to have the comorbidities listed above. For example, 40% of adults age 40-59 have cardiovascular disease, but this number jumps to 70-75% of people age 60-79, and 79-86% of those age 80+. In addition, people don’t usually live in nursing homes by choice – typically it becomes a necessity when aging adults are too unwell to safely remain in their homes/require assistance to take care of themselves. When we look at it from this perspective, it becomes evident that overall health, rather than age, is the real risk factor.
Living Your Best Life
Most people invest in their wealth throughout their life to ensure a comfortable lifestyle come retirement and older age, but what about their health? Investing in your health ensures that you will be disease-free, mobile, and active enough to enjoy your golden years. Like investing in your retirement plan, this should begin early in life to maximize your return on investment. Your choices when you feel far away from old age dictate if you spend your retirement moving between your easy chair and the doctor’s office or the golf course and hiking trail.
One barrier that many people claim prevents them from taking part in activities that optimize their health and prevent disease, like purchasing healthy groceries or having a gym membership, is cost. While investing in being healthy has an upfront cost, it is much lower than the huge and unexpected costs a major health event has. So let’s take a look at the numbers.
A Penny Saved is a Dollar Earned
The average severe heart attack will cost the patient $1 million in direct (hospital bills, prescriptions, etc.) and indirect (lost time from work, lower productivity, etc.) costs. If you spread this out over the course of 20 years, it comes out to $50,000/year. What if you had taken those twenty years and invested a small portion of that $50,000/year in optimizing your health, thus preventing the heart attack from ever occurring? Not only are you saving yourself the pain and suffering of a major health event, but you are keeping hundreds of thousands of dollars in your pocket.
A Penny Saved is a Dollar Earned
Let’s take a look at health insurance. The average health insurance premium is $440/month for an individual and $1168/month for a family. This does not include your deductible, copays, or co-insurance. If you are a relatively healthy individual who does not utilize the healthcare system very often (i.e. no chronic disease), this money is not being used to provide you with health services, but instead is straight profit to your insurance company. What if you invested some of that money in activities that actually make you healthy? If you have no chronic health concerns, consider a high deductible, low premium, “catastrophic” plan, and utilize your savings to invest in healthy food, fitness, and cash-pay (typically lower cost) preventative health services.
The time to switch the mindset from one of disease treatment to health optimization is now! Enhancing your health through positive lifestyle behaviors increases the length and quality of your life, reduces your likelihood of developing chronic disease, decreases your vulnerability to novel infectious disease (like COVID-19), and saves your healthcare dollars!
If you have any questions or comments, please email Dr. Molly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Chow N et al. Preliminary estimates of the prevalence of selected underlying health conditions among patients with coronavirus disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020 Apr 3; 69:382. (https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6913e2)
- Guan WJ et al. Comorbidity and its impact on 1590 patients with Covid-19 in China: A Nationwide Analysis. Eur Respir J 2020 Mar 26; [e-pub]. (https://doi.org/10.1183/13993003.00547-2020)
- Yazdanyar, Ali, and Anne B Newman. “The burden of cardiovascular disease in the elderly: morbidity, mortality, and costs.” Clinics in geriatric medicine vol. 25,4 (2009): 563-77, vii. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2009.07.007
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