Megan Roberts, MS Nurse and Head of the Health Professional Programme at the MS Trust, explains what we can do to improve our resilience to illness and give ourselves the best chance to recover from COVID-19 infection.
The quick answer to this is yes!
More of us than not are going to catch the coronavirus at some stage over the next 12-24 months – some estimates are that as many as 80% of us will contract the virus. The good news is that there is a lot you can do in advance to give yourself the best chance of reducing the risk of any serious illness developing as a result of catching the virus.
Stopping smoking has to be top of the list – if you smoke then stop! You are 14 times more likely to die if you get coronavirus and smoke. There is a lot of support available to you if you want to stop smoking – the NHS website has lots of tips and links to support services, your local pharmacy may also be able to help you. Start by telling friends and family of your plans – they can be your greatest allies and motivators. We have more information on quitting smoking here.
The commonest serious complication of coronavirus is viral pneumonia so, apart from stopping smoking, making sure your lungs are working as well as possible is one of the most helpful things you can do. All of us should be doing what we can to strengthen our lungs right now and there is a great blog here with 5 top tips for improving your lung function – and having some fun at the same time!
Eating well and healthily can feel like a bit more of a challenge than usual at the moment but is important, as much to help us keep a positive outlook as to keep us healthy. We should all be aiming for a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. There is more information about eating healthily with MS here. Being obese is known to increase your risk of developing serious complications; if this applies to you then trying to lose some weight will help. The NHS Eat Well, Live Well website is a really good place to start and there is plenty of help and advice available out there.
As well as improving your physical health, your mental wellbeing is also really important. Many of us are struggling a little more than usual with our mental health at the moment but there is lots of help available and lots of things you can do to help yourself. Some of the things we have already mentioned such as exercise and eating healthily will help your overall well-being. Getting outside and being around nature can be very helpful – even if you can’t get far, sitting on a balcony with a few plants around or in your back yard can help.
When did you last really look at a dandelion – they are amazingly beautiful!
Staying connected is more important than ever at the moment – we are all getting much more expert at using video calling technology and there are online groups or classes you can join if you don’t have any close friends or family you can speak to regularly. You might also like to try mindfulness exercises, meditation or listening to some of our relaxation resources. The NHS have created a mental health website which allows you to create your own personalised plan for improving mind and body. There are also many different apps available which you can download depending on what appeals to you most. Don’t forget of course that the MS Trust enquiry line and organisations such the Samaritans or Mind are always there for you if you just need to talk.
It is worth reflecting that COVID-19 is a mild to moderate illness for most people, that the evidence from Italy is that people with MS are not excessively affected and that it is by no means certain that you will need to go to hospital if you catch it. Most people who are infected can recover completely at home.
Part 2 of this series will focus on what you need to think about in advance, in case you do get seriously ill as a result of the virus.
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