The health measures that matter when it comes to beating COVID-19

The health measures that matter when it comes to beating COVID-19

Weight is an important measure of a person’s health — but not the only one.

Yes, a recent bombshell study debunked the so-called myth of “fat but fit”: The theory that regular exercise could combat the harmful effects of carrying too much weight. The study’s author, Madrid professor Alejandro Lucia, found that overweight people with active lifestyles were still at greater risk for cardiovascular disease than their average weight peers.

However, health professionals are clear that while obesity is a legitimate medical concern, weight doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to overall vulnerability to illness.

“Weight is only one factor to be considered when assessing someone’s health,” Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, told The Post.

Whyte said that blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar and heart rate must also be examined in order to properly determine a patient’s complete fitness.

And despite the recent study’s biggest takeaway, even author Lucia maintained that exercise is crucial: “At all weights, the odds of diabetes and hypertension decreased as physical activity rose,” he wrote.

Indeed, regular physical activity can reduce one’s risk of developing high blood pressure, Type-2 diabetes and heart failure — all of which are independently harmful, as well as being underlying conditions that can worsen the effects of COVID-19.

Mark Fierstein, internal medicine specialist at NYU Langone Lake Success, confirmed to The Post that adhering to a moderately intense workout regimen — at any weight — can improve health. 

“People should regularly engage in vigorous physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week in an effort to ward off [disease] and enhance their overall health,” Fierstein said.

And exercise has benefits beyond the doctor’s office. It releases endorphins — hormones that promote positive feelings and reduce the brain’s perception of pain — which can help combat lockdown-related psychological issues such as stress and depression. 

For plus-size fitness instructor Jessie Diaz-Herrera, her Body Positive Dance workout classes are all about leading healthy, happy and active lifestyles. 

“Working out is a practice of self-care,” Diaz-Herrera, 33, told The Post.

During her hourlong trainings, the native New Yorker promotes “movement for joy,” and tramples the stigmas that come with being overweight. 

“We would never look at an Olympic athlete or an NFL linebacker and think of them as unhealthy, even though he or she might be overweight,” Diaz-Herrera said.

Below, some of the most important markers of physical health — beyond the scale.

Blood pressure

“Blood pressure is important to examine because it’s an indicator of healthy blood vessels,” Whyte told The Post. “Healthier blood vessels cause blood to flow better, which prevents blood clots, hardening of the arteries and heart disease.”

Readings are given in two numbers: The top number, systolic pressure, is the maximum pressure your heart exerts while beating, while the bottom figure, diastolic pressure, gauges the amount of pressure in your arteries between beats. 

Both average weight and overweight people can suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension, weakening their immune system and making them susceptible to COVID-19. 

The good news is that exercising at a moderately intense rate for 15 to 20 minutes a day helps open the blood vessels and allows the heart to pump more blood with less effort, which improves cardiovascular health.   

Cholesterol

Too much of the fatty substance in the bloodstream can cause blood vessel blockages, leading to increased risk of stroke, cardiac arrest and complications from COVID-19. 

“There’s good cholesterol, which is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), that reduces the risk of heart disease,” Fierstein told The Post. “Then there’s bad cholesterol, which is low-density lipoprotein (LDL), that can cause blockages in the blood vessels.”

Total cholesterol also includes triglycerides which are stored fat cells used to give the body energy. 

To lower cholesterol, experts suggest adopting a high protein and high fiber diet — free of saturated fats, which are typically found in red meat, and trans fats, often found in most snack foods. Exercise, as well as reducing alcohol and tobacco intake, can also help lower LDL, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Blood sugar 

Blood sugar or blood glucose is stored energy that’s ingested from food — especially those high in carbohydrates. 

“It’s important to monitor blood sugar because elevated levels could indicate serious health issues,” Whyte told The Post. 

High blood sugar can lead to Type-2 diabetes, prompting issues in the heart, kidneys, eyes and blood vessels. 

Plus, a recent study in the journal Annals of Medicine found that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who also had higher-than-normal blood sugar levels had a higher risk of death than those with normal levels — regardless of whether or not they were diabetic.

Managing your blood sugar has a lot to do with diet. Low-carb vegetables such as mushrooms, kale and eggplant are good additions, and swapping out sugary sweets for berries or lower-sugar fruits can help. WebMD also suggests incorporating healthy fats such as salmon, avocado and nuts to your diet for best results.

Resting heart rate

Heart rate is determined by the number of times your heart beats each minute. A normal heart rate for adults is between 60 to 100 beats a minute. 

A lower resting heart rate typically indicates better overall physical fitness, whereas a higher resting heart rate could indicate cardiovascular disease. Smokers also tend to have higher resting heart rates.

Regular exercise and stress-reducing activities such as meditation can lower resting heart rates over time, keeping the heart and immune system in fighting form against COVID-19 and other illnesses. 

“When you have a lower resting heart rate,” Fierstein said, “your heart is pumping more efficiently. You’re extracting oxygen from the blood more efficiently and your whole cardiovascular fitness has improved.”

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