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The new normal: How to stay healthy in a coronavirus world

As the world continues to open up following lockdowns across the globe, you may be left wondering what to do next, or how to carry on.

Should you continue to stay home as much as possible, return to all types of social interactions or is it safest to only socialise in outdoor settings, such as a park or the beach?

The reality is that there is no wrong decision. You are the best judge of what’s best for you.

“A healthy lifestyle is all about balance,” says family doctor and public health consultant Nick Summerton. “Staying home is good for coronavirus, but not for other aspects of your health.”

Summerton believes what everyone needs is a personalised distancing plan -- a way to stay both safe and healthy that is unique to them.

For now, this means taking the time to think about the risk coronavirus poses to you and what else is important for you to stay healthy -- both physically and mentally.

Assessing your risk from coronavirus

A lot is still unknown about coronavirus, but what experts do know is that certain people are at more risk of severe disease, or death, from the virus. This includes people who:

  • are over 65

  • are obese

  • have other chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung or respiratory disease

  • are men

  • are from ethnic minority backgrounds

A study published in The Lancet found that 1 in 5 people globally have an underlying health condition that could increase their risk of severe coronavirus if infected. When you factor in men and anyone from an ethnic minority group, this covers a lot of people.

But some people are at even greater risk if they become infected with coronavirus. They have been classed as extremely vulnerable by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

This group includes people receiving cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, people with severe lung conditions and anyone who has had an organ transplant or their spleen removed.

If you fit into either of these groups, you may be more concerned about going out in public than someone who is young and has no underlying health conditions, for example.

But going out to exercise or see other people is also important for your wellbeing -- and it’s also important for maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your risk of some conditions that can make you more vulnerable to coronavirus, such as diabetes or heart disease.

So how should you adapt your lifestyle?

Take the right precautions

It’s important to remember that severe cases of coronavirus have been reported in people of all ages, health levels and ethnicities. So everyone is advised to continue:

  • keeping a distance from other people

  • washing hands regularly

  • wearing face masks in public, particularly in places where distancing is harder (such as public transport and shops)

But if you’re more vulnerable to the virus you may need to think about additional ways to protect yourself.

If you’re at risk

If you have any of the factors mentioned above, “you need to start working out how to minimise your risk,” says Summerton.

“You could go out in a small group (rather than a bigger one), be strict about keeping at least 2 metres from other people, continue to get deliveries to your door and avoid crowded areas.”

Other measures you can take include carrying hand sanitiser (with an alcohol content of at least 60%) at all times, and only spending time with other people outdoors.

If you’re over 60 or have an underlying health condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) says you should ideally wear a medical face mask, rather than a fabric one.

If you’re extremely vulnerable

If you fall into the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group, the NHS continues to advise only leaving home to spend time outdoors. This means you can go for walks and stay active.

But it also recommends getting food and medicine delivered, cleaning any surfaces you touch often, making sure anyone who comes into your home washes their hands and cleaning a shared bathroom every time you use it.

This advice is likely to change as infections go down.

If you’re under 65 with no health conditions

If you’re a healthy younger person, you should keep up with the basic hygiene habits listed above and use good judgement when going out, but you’re unlikely to need to take extra precautions.

In fact, going back to normality may benefit your health.

Younger people in particular have experienced social isolation and withdrawal during lockdown, and they may need to exercise, go out more and see people in order to maintain good mental health, Summerton explains. He adds that some of his patients have described feeling low and anxious as a result of lockdown.

Studies support this, showing that depression and anxiety have been highest in younger people during the pandemic. Younger people have also reported lower satisfaction with life, more worries about the future and feeling extremely bored during this time.

Striking the right balance after lockdown

Moving forward is about “empowering people again, rather than telling them what to do,” says Summerton.

To make the right decisions for you, stay informed on the guidance in your local area or country, keep aware of any new outbreaks of coronavirus or if infection rates go up where you live, and then do what’s needed to stay active, eat well and stay mentally healthy.


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