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Better health over 50: How the pandemic made us take action

Learning from lockdown: has the pandemic has helped us be healthier?

rethinking health

If you set yourself the goal of achieving better health over 50 in March 2020 then chances are it was not initially a roaring success. It’s been a year since the pandemic struck and up-ended how we live our lives. But if anything positive can come out of this tragic experience it is not only that it has made us appreciate our health service and those who work in it more, it has also made us think about improving, and protecting, our own health.

A new survey from lifestyle brand Healthspan reveals 62 per cent of us have become more motivated to prioritise our physical and mental health during this time but what else have we learnt that we can take with us going forwards?

Value of good nutrition for better health over 50

Our lockdown diets might not have been perfect but most of us were, and are, mindful of making improvements – 44 per cent of those polled by Healthspan revealed they striving for better health over 50 and were consciously trying to eat more vitamin and mineral rich vegetables and fruit. Nearly half were trying to ensure their diet was ‘more balanced’, over a quarter had resolved to eat lower fat foods and 34 per cent are taking a vitamin D supplement (a nutrient in the body created on exposure to sunlight). Even before we’d even heard of COVID-19, Public Health England (PHE) had recommended us sun-starved Brits take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement between October and March, and with some people barely going outdoors for up to a year (and with few potent food sources of it) there is more reason than ever to suggest some people might be struggling to get enough. 

The significance of getting a regular balance of nutrients was also highlighted earlier this year when nutritional medicine and immunology experts Phillip C Calder and Margaret P Rayman suggested even small micronutrient deficiencies could compromise the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. They concluded giving a multivitamin and mineral supplement  to make up for any nutritional gaps – particularly to the elderly and clinically vulnerable – could increase efficacy of the jabs. 

Try: Healthspan Vitamin D3 Plus Peppermint Spray: 15mll, 100 daily doses – £6.95

Why nurturing your immune system is vital

In the survey, the number one reason people gave for starting to think more seriously about better health over 50 was that they felt ‘less energetic than they used to.’ But feeling tired and rundown, at the same time as (or possibly because of) trying to avoid a potentially deadly virus and cope with the mental health challenges posed by it, has highlighted the importance of safeguarding our immune health.

Tempting as it might be to suggest there is a wonder supplement, elixir or green smoothie that can miraculously ‘power up’ or suddenly ‘boost’ it, sadly immune health does not work like this. Rather, this intricate protective system needs regular nurturing, maintaining and protecting to function at its optimum best. This means protecting it daily in a range of common sense ways – eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, managing stress and reducing alcohol. And it can be helpful to be reminded of this. Plus as Professor of Respiratory Medicine Pallav Shah from Imperial College London points out, ‘The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how hand washing is such a simple and effective way to help reduce the risk of infection and disease.’ The hand washing, social distancing and face mask combination (and possibly larger uptake of the ‘flu vaccine) has also seen GPs reporting cold rates at around a quarter of the usual average and around a 20 per cent drop in cases of ‘flu. 

If you are looking for an immune supporting ally, immunologist Dr Ross Walton says, ‘there is reasonable evidence to support the use of Echinacea purpurea to prevent and treat symptoms of the common cold.’ He also cites a Swiss study from last year in which it was suggested Echinacea extract (in A.Vogel’s Echinacea range) could ‘play a role in reducing coronavirus replication in the airways’. 

Try A.Vogel Echinacea Drops, 50ml, £10.50 (www.avogel.co,uk

Improving your heart health

Worryingly, in the Healthspan survey over half of respondents said they weren’t particularly concerned about the health of their heart ‘as they couldn’t see it.’ In the context of the pandemic – when many routine check-ups and appointments have been delayed and people maybe didn’t want to go to their GP or hospital with potential symptoms for fear of overloading NHS workers and/or catching the virus – the effects  have been devastating. Death rates have slipped back to 2010 levels reversing a decade of progress and figures from the Office of National Statistics show heart disease as the most common cause of home deaths for both men and women during the pandemic.  

If ever there was a time to set yourself a goal of better health over 50 to protect your heart health it is now. As Dr Ameet Bakhai, Consultant Cardiologist at Spire Bushey Hospital (who is working with Healthspan on a heart health supplement range) says, ‘It is absolutely vital to keep going for necessary regular check-ups and screenings and also ideally keep a record of your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar readings. Plus ideally keep a step count – you should be doing at least 4,000 a day – it is crucial to regularly keep mobile.’ 

Regular exercise, along with a heart-healthy diet, should also help keep your weight down – being overweight or obese is one of the key risk factors of heart and circulatory disease. It has also been suggested the UK’s high COVID death toll has been fuelled by the nation’s obesity problem.

Thinking about your heart health

Try the NHS Heart Age app it’s free and simple to use.

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Last modified: May 25, 2021

Written by 6:24 pm Nutrition