Dr. Prabhakar Shetty, Chief of Cardiology, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur
The major concerns of working from home is physical inactivity which can certainly ruin one’s overall health and particularly heart health. COVID-19 pandemic is one of the worst pandemics of our time, and right now it may seem never ending, but I am confident that it will be over sooner than you think. Till then we have to live with it and take appropriate steps to avoid contacting the virus. Wearing a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing are the only proven steps to decrease the spread of the infection.
To avoid the spread of the infection, one of the ways to ensure social distancing is to work from home. Working from home a day or two may seem like fun, but prolonged work from home may have its own toll on health. Working from home may change the lifestyle drastically for some and not so much for others depending upon their work culture and how well they adapt to the new situation.
Have an active lifestyle:
Physical inactivity can worsen cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol abnormalities. Working from home is different from house arrest and it should not lead to physical inactivity. Going out for a walk wearing a tight-fitting mask is always safe as long as you maintain social distancing. The chances of one catching the infection while walking is negligible if he is wearing a mask. It is important to wash your hands thoroughly when you come back home.
Explore indoor physical activity options:
If going for a walk outside the house is difficult, you can explore indoor exercise options.
- You can walk inside the house, climb stairs if any, include exercise regimes like squats, sit-ups, or push-ups, or free-hand exercises or even lifting weights depending on your previous exercise pattern.
- You can practice yoga or dance at home or take online classes to learn.
- Stationary bicycles (or recumbent bike if you have any back problems) help to maintain your cardiovascular fitness.
- Strength training using simple tools such as resistance bands, one or two sets of dumbbells also helps in the daily indoor exercise.
The determination to exercise is more important than any of the equipment required for it. Other than physical disability, nothing else should prevent someone to remain physically inactive while working from home.
Do not overeat:
The other concern with working from home is overeating. Here, dietary discipline plays a major role than the work environment. If a person is aware of healthy diet following the same while working from home is not difficult. The most important thing to remember is to avoid eating sweets and other calorie rich foods as you can easily put on weight while staying at home. Diet and exercise are interrelated. But, it is important to understand that exercise can mitigate the ill-effects of overeating only to a limited extent. So, it makes far more sense to have a controlled diet in the first place.
Be in touch with your loved ones:
Working from home may affect the psycho-social wellness for some. People who smoke or drink alcohol may overdo it when they work from home. It is important to draw boundaries. Smoking is no-no whether you work from home or in the office. Taking time out from work and interacting with family members, listening to music, or practising yoga or meditation may help to avoid the monotony of work. If you are living alone, keeping in touch with family and friends on the phone should also help.
Regular check-ups are must:
People with pre-existing medical problems should pay even more attention to diet and exercise while they are working from home. Regular walking and exercise is important to people with pre-existing heart or other health problems. They should continue all their previous medications regularly and undergo periodic check-ups. Regular monitoring of blood pressure and blood sugars for people with high blood pressure and diabetes is very important. A visit to the hospital for routine blood tests should not increase their chances of contacting the virus provided they follow the simple rules of COVID protection – wearing a face mask, not touching the face while outside the house, social distancing and hand washing after returning home. It is advised to visit the hospital as soon as you develop any health problems.
Tele consultation is an option:
Whether one should visit the doctor physically or online will depend upon their condition. If there are no symptoms, and BP and lab test results can be obtained, a tele-consultation may be enough. However, if there are symptoms and physical consultation is necessary, one should not hesitate to go to a hospital for a proper evaluation. In case of severe symptoms like sudden onset of chest pain, fainting or breathlessness, one should seek immediate medical attention. Fear of corona virus infection should not deter anyone from seeking medical attention if they notice severe chest pain or breathlessness.
Even in the time of pandemic, one should not lose the focus on other severe health conditions. In India approximately 10 million people die annually, and according to the registrar general of India cardiovascular deaths accounted for 23% of all deaths and 32% of all adult deaths in India in 2010-13. There is no indication of any decline in cardiovascular deaths since then. So roughly 3 million (30 lakhs) people die from cardiovascular diseases annually which is much higher than corona deaths so far. Even if the COVID related deaths increase by 5 folds in the next 6 months, the number of total possible corona deaths in a year’s span is still unlikely to cross 1 million. This comparison is only to highlight the importance of cardiovascular disease which should not be undermined by the COVID 19 infection. Although the impact of corona infection on all of us is substantial, we should not lose our focus on cardiovascular health which is still the leading cause of death and disability in the world today.