By Paolo von Schirach –
WASHINGTON – We now know that most of the Americans who need to be hospitalized and eventually die on account of coronavirus are elderly (and sometimes middle-aged) people already in poor health who often must take medications that have the negative side effect of weakening their immune system. In other words, those who are already sick or in poor health–and there are millions in America– are the primary coronavirus targets and, sadly, often the victims.
Sick people are coronavirus victims
Oversimplifying a bit, this horrible coronavirus pandemic exposes the inconvenient reality that America, over time, has become a nation of people in mediocre or poor health. Millions, senior citizens in particular, are affected by chronic diseases. They are propped up by multiple medications aimed at lessening the health impact of various maladies. It is very clear that already unhealthy people, often on various medications that often suppress the body’s immunity, are the primary victims of this virus.
Regarding the overall health conditions of seniors citizens in America, according to some health care experts, this is just the way it is. Old people get sick, and doctors help them by prescribing medicines that help them live longer. This is the best that we can do in dealing with an aging population.
Old and healthy
Well, guess what, it does not have to be this way! No, it is not true that when you go past 60 years your general health conditions inevitably start to decline and you fall prey, as a matter of course, to a variety of diseases that naturally come with old age. This is simply not true.
Many physicians, gerontologists, nutrition and physical exercise experts for years have been telling us what most of us do not like to hear. Most of us can stay reasonably healthy even as we age, provided that we diligently follow basic nutrition and exercise habits. Of course, we are not immortal, and we shall get sick. But if we do take good care of ourselves we shall live a longer and reasonably healthy life.
Bad habits, sick people
A few years ago I read a book (one out of many on this subject) titled “Younger Next Year”. One of the co-authors, Dr. Henry S. Lodge, is a geriatric care physician. He was prompted to co-write this book after having observed how the overall health conditions of his patients deteriorated massively and almost suddenly after they hit 60. For most of them, it was not a gentle slope. It was an almost catastrophic and rapid decline, with multiple diseases taking over, followed by death.
It did not take him very long to realize that most of his suddenly sick patients had embraced in their younger years unhealthy lifestyles whose cumulative outcome as they entered old age was a fragile immune system, and the propensity to develop often fatal cardiovascular diseases, not to mention type 2 diabetes, with all its negative consequences, and other ailments.
Good nutrition and exercise will do it
This book does not sell the silly idea that we can stay magically young and healthy forever. We do get old, and therefore we do become more fragile, and eventually we die. But we can stay healthy as we age. We can avoid maladies resulting from unhealthy or outright destructive personal habits. We can and should eat healthy food and engage in regular, moderate exercise as a way to stay healthy and fit. The critical thing is to embrace sooner rather than later a healthy lifestyle regime and stick to it.
Advice not followed
Sadly, despite this book and many others advising us on how to stay reasonably healthy even as we age, most Americans do not follow this guidance. And the cumulative result of bad personal habits pursued by millions, when it comes to nutrition and exercise, are well known.
Our overall national health statistics are pretty horrible. We are the developed country that spends by far the most on health care –about 18% of GDP, almost double what other rich countries spend. But we have very little to show for this massive expenditure, much of it going to treat millions affected by chronic (and for the most part, avoidable) diseases.
Our life expectancy is mediocre, and actually declining. A staggering 30% of Americans (that is about 100 million people) are obese or overweight. It is well known that obesity (a self-inflicted wound in most cases) is the precursor to cardiovascular diseases, type two diabetes, and more.
What’s the connection with coronavirus?
Well, what’s the connection between all this and the severe impact of coronavirus in America in terms of large numbers of hospitalizations and death? Very simple. We know that this virus (as well as others) finds particularly fertile ground in people whose immune systems have already been degraded or compromised by chronic illnesses and/or medications that suppress some critically important immune functions. Sadly, on account of the way we chose to live, millions of Americans today fit this profile. Hence the large number of hospitalizations and unfortunately deaths during this coronavirus pandemic.
Wellness is prevention
I am not suggesting here that if we, as a nation, had started following decades ago the advice provided by so many wellness experts about the benefits of healthy nutrition and regular exercise, we would not have a coronavirus pandemic, at this time. We would still have it.
However, I am suggesting that this epidemic would have been far less severe, with far fewer hospitalizations and deaths; simply because many, many more elderly (and also younger) Americans would have been in basic good or at least better health, with much stronger immune systems, and therefore better able to fight the virus.
Wellness practices are not about long life magic potions. They are about learning how to take good care of ourselves following the advice given to us by experts who know what it takes to preserve our bodies and the natural immunity defenses that a healthy system creates.
Public Health Officials need to teach how to stay in good health
Needless to say, none of this matters right now, as we are in the middle of the pandemic. But I sincerely hope that, as soon as all this will be over and we will be able to calm down, all our Public Health Authorities will do their very best to explain to the Nation that staying in good health matters –a lot.
There are other diseases. There will be other pandemics. Lacking proven medications and/or vaccines, a healthy body with good immunity is and will continue to be our best defense. And remember that there is no vaccine against obesity. What you choose to eat, every day, will determine your weight and eventually your health.
Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.