Health Pearls in the Time of Coronavirus: How to Manage Your Chronic Medical Problems

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March 30, 2020

Let’s face it. Staying at home is no picnic for most of us. For many people, irritability, boredom, and lethargy ensue so that you’re annoyed most of the time. It’s hard to get out of the slump to do anything except lay around. I myself was shamed into going outside to walk with my family and the two dogs, and at least I get to go out to my office during the week! Many people binge watch TV. Other people cook and bake. The latter may seem benign but not when this self-imposed exile turns out to be a 25-pound nightmare.

And if you have chronic medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and others, it’s easy for self-care to slip through the cracks. Here are some ideas that may help you get out of your rut.

Sometimes I ask patients to consider themselves “athletes in training”. It may sound ridiculous, but if you repeat it to yourself enough times, perhaps it will stick. Athletes must force themselves to train. We have to do the same. We know we’ll feel better after we exercise. It’s the getting up and doing it that’s the problem. Try to set up a schedule in which you tell yourself you must do some type of exercise during that time, even if it’s minor. Sometimes if you set aside 15 minutes to take a walk, you end up doing more because you see it’s not that bad. Exercise is one of the main ways you’re going to avoid putting on that 25 pounds you’ll be way sorry for later. Do anything. Just do something.

The food is the next problem. Baking cookies really seems like the right thing to do. But you’ll be sorry afterwards, especially when your sugars and the scale go up. Make a plan for your meals during the next week, and when you shop or get grocery store deliveries, make sure you’ve gotten everything you need. (Don’t forget to wash your hands after you shop or handle groceries that are delivered). Spend some effort on your meal plan. Remind yourself of what foods you know are healthy and have satisfied you in the past. You don’t have to be perfect. Remember, if you’re not satisfied, any eating plan will be unsustainable. So make a plan that you’ll be able to stick with and won’t lead you to binge after. And make some plans for dessert as well. Stick some frozen fruit in a blender with skim or low-fat milk and some sweetener if you need it. The result is a shake that is sweet and surprisingly filling. Get some fresh fruit and put a little Cool Whip on it. (Not a cup of Cool Whip. Just a tablespoon or two!) Get or make some fat free, sugar free pudding. Get on the scale regularly so you can get feedback on how you’re doing.

If you are a diabetic, you can have the desserts I’ve just mentioned or make up your own. If you think about it beforehand, and plan for it, you can make it through. As mentioned above, prepare a meal plan for the week. Be sure you have what you need from the grocery store for all the meals. Check your sugars regularly, and if things aren’t going well, make a phone appointment with your doctor. Force yourself to take a little time each day for the exercise.

If you have high blood pressure,  these same things apply to you. The exercise, the meal planning, and the athlete in training mentality. Don’t fall into the trap of eating tons of take-out food, which is so high in sodium that your blood pressure is likely to get out of control. Try and prepare your own version of your favorite take out. You may not like to cook, but you’re an athlete. Force yourself to prepare a little something. Check your blood pressures regularly. If it’s still going up, cut down another 20% on the take-out food. You don’t have to go cold turkey! Still a problem? Make a virtual phone appointment with your doctor. Don’t forget the exercise. Just a little!

For your high cholesterol, all the above apply to you as well. There’s just so much your statins can do!

Everyone is in the same boat. Do what you can to get through this. Speak to your friends who have similar challenges (by phone, of course) and compare ideas. If you don’t get Coronavirus, you’ll feel plenty sick when you’ve gotten through this and find your chronic medical problems have been neglected and you’re in bad shape. You’re an athlete. Just do it!

Aimee Seidman MD – Internal Medicine and Geriatrics