By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 13 July 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has left a trail of lasting damage on a significant portion of the global population, ever since it was first identified in 2019. While most people who got infected by the virus have gone on to make a complete recovery, a few were unable to survive its complications. There are also others who have recovered but continue to suffer from debilitating health consequences, long after they were cured of the initial infection.
Scientists use the term post-COVID syndrome or ‘long COVID’ to describe the after-effects of COVID-19 that persist for weeks or months after the initial illness. The syndrome can affect anyone who has had the infection, irrespective of whether the symptoms were mild or severe. While it may not be possible to avoid long COVID entirely, it is still possible to speed up the recovery process.
A healthy diet and hydration play a key role in post-COVID recovery. It is a well-known fact that people who consume a nutritious diet are healthier and have strong immune systems. Such people are at a considerably lower risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. Therefore, people who wish to improve their recovery after COVID-19 infection should align their focus on consuming a healthy diet.
Some of the important aspects of a healthy diet are:
● Fresh and unprocessed foods
A healthy diet includes plenty of unprocessed plant-based foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts. It can also include moderate amounts of foods from animal sources such as milk, eggs, fish, and chicken. It is recommended that people consume at least 2 cups of fruit, 2.5 cups of vegetables, 180 g of grains, and 160 g of meat and beans every day. It is also important to not overcook the food as the same can result in loss of essential nutrients.
● Adequate intake of water is important for good health
Drinking plenty of water is one of the simplest ways of maintaining good health. Experts recommend drinking at least 1.5 to 2 litres of water every day. Besides water, people can also consume fresh fruit juices, lemonade, coconut water, cucumber, and watermelon to improve their hydration levels. However, one should limit the intake of caffeinated beverages, fruit juice concentrates, and carbonated drinks.
● Eat adequate amounts of healthy fats
Experts suggest substituting the intake of saturated fats with unsaturated fats. Unlike saturated fats, unsaturated fats are healthy and essential for overall well-being. Common sources of unsaturated fats include fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, and canola oil. On the other hand, fatty meat, butter, coconut oil, cream, and cheese contain saturated fat. Avoid processed foods that contain high amounts of trans fats and salt such as fast food and fried snacks. For dairy products, opt for low-fat varieties whenever possible.
● Lower the intake of salt and sugar
A high intake of sugar and salt is not good for health as it can increase the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, fatty liver disease, and cardiovascular and renal problems. Therefore, they should always be consumed in moderation.
● Eat immunity boosting foods
A healthy immune system is the body’s first line of defence against infection-causing germs. It also plays a pivotal role in post-infection recovery. To maintain a good immune function, it is essential to eat foods that are rich in specific micronutrients and antioxidative compounds. Micronutrients such as vitamin A, B-6, C, D, E, and zinc play an important role in boosting immunity.
Sources of immunity-boosting micronutrients:
Vitamin A - Sweet potato, broccoli, spinach, and kale.
Vitamin B-6 - Oats, bananas, poultry, and wheatgerm.
Vitamin C - Citrus fruits, red bell pepper, papaya, and kiwi.
Vitamin D - Yogurt, egg, mushroom, and oily fish.
Vitamin E - Almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and avocado.
Zinc - Legumes, shellfish, nuts, and milk.
Besides these micronutrients, antioxidants play a vital role in boosting the immune system. Garlic, ginger, turmeric, and green tea are some of the rich sources of antioxidants that help improve immune function.
Prolonged hospitalization or home isolation can take a toll on the physical strength of a COVID-recovered individual. It can also adversely affect their ability to carry out routine activities. Experts recommend that people who have recovered from COVID-19 should consider opting for physical rehabilitation.
Benefits of physical rehabilitation include:
● Improvement in recovery time
● Better strength and muscle function
● Restoration of abilities to resume normal activities
● Reduced stress and anxiety
● Reduced risk of mental issues
One of the major objectives of post-COVID rehabilitation is to assist an individual resume their normal life while maintaining good health. A phased rehabilitation program is a strategy that focuses on three exercise phases to accomplish this goal. The exercise phases take into account the current status of activity and the layers of movement.
One of the primary targets of COVID-19 is the respiratory system. People with pre-existing chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD are at an increased risk of long-term pulmonary function impairment. Such people can consider opting for pulmonary rehabilitation, an effective strategy for improving respiratory function.
Pulmonary rehabilitation focuses on exercises and techniques that help adjust breathing rhythm, strengthen lungs, and clear excess mucus from the airways. Some of the benefits of pulmonary rehabilitation include improved lung capacity, reduction in shortness of breath, and better management of respiratory complications.
Experts say that stress can adversely affect post-COVID recovery and put mental health at risk. Therefore, it is imperative to manage stress as part of the overall post-COVID recovery. Some of the things that can help manage or reduce stress include:
● Maintaining a daily routine
● Getting an adequate amount of sleep
● Connecting with friends and family via calls or texts
● Avoiding news and social media coverage of the pandemic
● Practicing coping techniques like yoga, meditation, or listening to music
● Expressing feelings through different mediums like writing a journal or a blog
Smoking and intake of alcohol are often associated with poor health outcomes. Nevertheless, these bad habits can also jeopardize post-COVID recovery. According to research, smoking adversely impacts immune function by causing harmful changes to the respiratory system and immune cells. Smoking not only increases the risk of cancer and heart disease but can also worsen viral infections like COVID-19. Similarly, consumption of alcohol makes it difficult for the immune system to prime the body to fight against infections. Along with its regular harmful effects, alcohol can also damage the cells of the immune system. Given the risks posed by smoking and alcohol consumption, it is important to give these habits a miss at least till the recovery is over.
Good hygiene is the most effective way of reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection. Since the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have been emphasizing the need to adopt COVID-19 appropriate behaviour - physical distancing, wearing masks, maintaining hand hygiene, and regularly disinfecting commonly touched objects - to stop the transmission of the virus.
While it may be counterintuitive to follow the behaviour after recovering from COVID-19, it is important to note that the risk of re-infection exists. This is especially true in the wake of the emergence of newer and deadlier variants that can cause re-infections in the recovered and vaccinated populations.
People who have had COVID-19 may continue to experience health concerns weeks or months after recovering from the initial illness. As a result, staging a complete recovery may turn out to be a long-haul process.
In addition to the healthy strategies mentioned above to expedite the post-covid recovery, there is a personalized convenient at-home health management program, Apollo ProHealth CoRe that is designed to help people bounce back to normalcy by assessing the current health status along with a tailored recovery plan. The program features a personalised health risk assessment, home sample collection (blood and vitals), followed by a virtual consult with a physician and continuous monitoring with health mentors for 3 months. The physician may recommend further tests based on symptoms as part of the program – Chest X-Ray and ECG are complimentary, Lung CT and ECHO are offered at a 50% discount.
ProHealth CoRe can help improve recovery, restore physical function, and allow the resumption of normal activities with the doctor’s guidance. Following these techniques can significantly accelerate the recovery process.
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