You can’t choose the cards, but you can always play the hand you’re dealt

There is something missing from the debate on Covid-19.

As far as I can see, most of the news and related debate involves looking for someone to blame.

The Escape Artist is not above blaming politicians. But my primary focus is always getting my own shit together rather than complaining about the rest of the world.

What’s missing from the debate is the idea of personal responsibility and what actions we can take to maximise our own health. The News has zero interest in helping you. If you die, well that’s great material for tomorrow’s story. If (like me) you are also young and good-looking, well that’s even better for clicks and ratings.

I just went on the BBC News website and there’s plenty of wallowing in death victim stories but, other than repeating the stay home mantra, no actionable advice on how not to die of Covid-19.

This is odd because, as far as I can see, our chances of getting exposed at some point are very high (I’m working on the assumption I’ll get it) and yet if healthy your odds of dying from it seem to be very small. Apparently, most healthy people will be asymptomatic: they won’t even know they had it.

A lot of people have died with the disease. But as far as I can see only a very small % of people have died from it. Its the co-morbidities that kill you (obesity, cancer, stroke, pneumonia, etc etc). Coronavirus is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The uncomfortable truth is that we were in a self-inflicted Wall-E style health crisis before the current pandemic. We suffer the diseases of abundance and sedentary lifestyles like never before.

The question should be: how much responsibility do we have for our own health?

Your health should be your top priority. If you really had to choose between your health and money (you shouldn’t, they are complementary) I suggest you choose your health. Here’s how you can put that first:


In Why We Sleep Matthew Walker explains the profound benefit of sleep for your immune system.

In one study performed by Dr Eric Prather at the University of California, the sleep of 150 men and women was measured for a week. He then squirted a dose of the virus that causes the common cold up their noses.

Prather then separated the participants into subgroups on the basis of how much sleep they’d got in the week before being exposed to the virus. There was a clear relationship: the less sleep they got, the more likely they were to get infected and catch a cold. In those sleeping 5 hours or less the infection rate was almost 50%. In those sleeping 7 hours or more, the infection rate was just 18%.

Note the lack of profit opportunities for Big Pharma in better sleep. What should you buy to get better sleep? Nothing. You get better sleep by a process of subtraction. You cut out screen time (TV, PCs, phones) and bright light in the evening before bedtime. Read a book instead.

Action point: get more sleep.


Sunshine is good for humans and bad for viruses.

For humans, sunshine is essential for vitamin D synthesis and has been linked to mood, wellbeing and immune function. For viruses, sunshine is bad news. Ultraviolet light exposure, temperature and humidity affect the viability and transmission of viruses. Sunlight makes it a lot harder for the virus to survive outside the body on surfaces or in the air.

Germs linger in pipes, dark corners and ventilation systems. Not outdoors in the sunlight. Telling people to stay indoors in small flats or damp terraced houses and not go to the park in the sunshine (whilst maintaining distance from other people) seems bonkers to me.

Oh and by the way, sunscreen is a scam mostly unnecessary. We should aim for sun exposure appropriate to our skin colour and genetics. Don’t burn. But if you haven’t got a light tan, why not? As a native Northern European, I am fine to sit out in April sunshine in England without sun cream.

Action point: Get outside in your garden or local park. Supplement with Vitamin D3 in winter.

Eat clean

Obesity (and its cousin Type 2 diabetes) is one of the risk factors for dying of Coronavirus.

How do you lose weight? Well, its ~80% nutrition (eating natural food that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten) and only ~20% exercise (exercise has other benefits). You can’t outrun a bad diet: trust me, I’ve tried.

I regret to inform you that most of the the stuff that people eat is not even food. Its industrial food-style product. All ready meals, vegetable oils, fast food from McDonuts, processed carbohydrates: its all junk. The booze ain’t helping either (alcohol acts as a mild toxin and inhibits nutrient uptake).

Yes, I like wine and chocolate as well. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Action point: eat fruit & vegetables, eggs, meat, fish and nuts.

Reduce stress

Stress comes in different forms. As any decent evolutionary psychologist will tell you, we are well adapted for short, sharp periods of danger (e.g. running from predators, fighting in a battle) but very poorly adapted to the persistent low level of stress that comes from modern life (e.g. commuting, having a boss you hate and / or a large mortgage to service).

Stress provokes a hormonal response (cortisol release) and has been linked to reduced immune function. There is only so much you can do in the short term to reduce stress but over time you can make choices that lower stress in your life.

Action points: switch off The News, buy less crap, get out of debt, commute less.


Coronavirus assaults your cardiovascular capacity and makes it harder to breathe. In extreme cases, patients are unable to get enough oxygen breathing unassisted. It seems obvious to me that you maximise your chances of surviving coronavirus by going into it with high cardiovascular capability. Like Darwin said, fit people are more likely to survive.

But what if you are not fit? Well, the great thing about being out of shape is that the gainz come quicker in the early days. It takes a lot of work for Usain Bolt to shave time off his 100m personal best. For the average gym-dodger? Not so much.

The good news is that even gentle exercise is effective. It’s wonderful to see people walking in the woods, running and going for cycle rides. Walking more (and driving less) is one of the most underrated medical interventions you can imagine.

Action point: Drive less. Walk & cycle more.


Only idiots put their faith in experts just because of the certificates on the waiting room wall.

The medical experts have struggled during this crisis, not because of a lack of expertise in epidemiology but because they don’t know enough about this virus to simply apply “science” to policy. In a situation like this, we need to be able to handle uncertainty and act accordingly.

Entrusting your health to doctors and drug companies is like entrusting your finances to a wealth manager. Some of them know what they’re talking about. But they all have their own interests and their own agenda. You still must do your own research.

As an example, I regret to inform you that the health advisers have lied not given us the full truth about masks. I’ve seen them say on TV that “there is no evidence that masks are effective”. Then they say they need more masks for health service workers. I agree they should prioritise the frontline health workers, but please spare us the bullshit. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Playing the hand you are dealt

There’s something you need to know about fairness: its not how The Universe works.

Luck plays a huge role in life (Fooled By Randomness is one of my favourite books). Sometimes life is a shitshow and no one is to blame. But denying the importance of personal responsibility is for losers. The more responsibility you take for your own life, the “luckier” you will tend to get.

This may not be the most popular view. But if I believe in helping my readers (I do) the question is what can we do not to die of coronavirus?

I recognise that it would now be hilarious ironic if I got Coronavirus and died. I’m not afraid of that. The idea of 100% safety is a mirage, it’s something to comfort children with.

Life is like a game of poker. The deck gets shuffled and you get dealt random cards.

You don’t choose the cards but you can always play the hand you are dealt.

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  1. Jerry Sims · · Reply

    A great post – and a man after my own heart. For years I have been banging on about to taking control of personal health, emphasising the above. Some people have listened, an awful lot have not. The envidence is well documented for those with eyes to see: to develop and maintain a strong immune system you have to make good health choices – and only you can do it.

  2. Oh lord you’re preaching about personal responsibility… pitchforks are being lit, they’re coming. 🙂

    With America’s obesity rate at 40% (and overweight at 73%) I figure our death rate per person infected will be higher than other countries. I hope I’m wrong. It’ll be hard to ever get accurate numbers since we’d have to test all 350+ million of us, and that’s gonna take a while.

    I blogged about how chronic lifestyle diseases account for about 75% of healthcare costs in America – using government facts – and lost numerous readers over the post. As a former fat guy myself who straightened up through discipline and hard work, I didn’t shame fat people, I simply stated the facts that if people stopped eating shitty foods, got down to a normal weight, stopped smoking and drinking too much we’d reduce healthcare costs significantly. All experts agree with this by the way. No one challenged the facts or came with their own data, but it didn’t stop some folks from abandoning my blog.

    Personal responsibility is simply not popular.

  3. My father sent me this week a mp4 video of a very long alive and biting python snake being dragged out of a road ditch somewhere in South-asia by a group of men (Indonesia I think, given the many men wearing a black “cup formed” cap on their head). Someone then started to then cut the python open, around the bulging area midway in it’s length. The machete cutting it open, slowly revealed a pair of children’s legs, then a fully dressed body, then a boys head. Someone in the crowd started to weep and shout. The kid and the python both got dealt a bad set of cards, me thinks. Glad to be alive and well.

  4. Steve Follows · · Reply

    A great post TEA, mirrors my sentiments in taking personal responsibility, in a world that to me seems to be overwhelmed with people feeling entitled and looking for someone else to blame rather than taking a long hard look in the mirror…. all amplified by the drivel that is tv news!

  5. Superb. Most accurate post I have read about Coronavirus. Personal responsibility for wellness. Simple.

  6. Paul Wiley · · Reply

    I’ve been wondering when someone was going to pick up on the immunological studies from “Why We Sleep”. Great work Barney.

  7. I stopped following the news on Covid-19 when politicians started trying to score political points by criticising the government’s reaction to the virus.
    I’m not for or against the Conservatives or any of the individual MPs (my apathy before all this was at an all time low anyway), but I recognise this is a time to pull together from the bottom of society all the way to our leaders at the top, and not a chance to one-up your opposition. Pissed me off to no end and I haven’t turned to the news in over 3 weeks now…it’s been bliss.

  8. Damian Tow · · Reply

    Whilst I haven’t been tested, I had symptoms of CV from 23rd March for about 10 days. It was pretty mild but the lingering exhaustion was a surprise and had taken a few weeks to shake off. I had been planning to run Brighton Marathon so my cardio vascular system was in a good state for my age and I wouldn’t be surprised if my fitness contributed to the mild case. That and probably having had a low amount of viral load as I self isolated from mid March anyway.

    Interesting how CV has revealed the benefits of a healthy lifestyle personally, and a healthy lifestyle for the planet through less air pollution, traffic, unnecessary consumption.

    We have been given the message, up to us to learn from it. Stay well!

  9. Interesting, and as ever, to the point actionable no nonsense approach.

    Regarding the health piece, I have greatly appreciated Barbell Medicine (no affiliation) and their take on many health and lifting matters (powerlifting medical doctors from the US).

    A great evidence based article on what’s important is

    Some more actionable tips with evidence to support.


  10. You realize your title picture is “69 420” right?

    1. I’m sure it all helps !!

  11. Mike Jones · · Reply


  12. very good stuff as always. today i wrote a parallel post about starting with the hand you’re dealt with finances. just like with your action items, there are usually some opportunities even if you’re a little behind or have tougher circumstances to start. it makes it even more important to seize those opportunities when they come around less often. go ahead and take that walk in the sun.

    there is always some baby who disagrees.

  13. Nice article and completely agree with you here esp. the B/S on the media. I wondered why they were discouraging the use of masks then the next clip showed a room full of reporters and medical people doing a briefing all wearing masks! We’re not stupid…well some of us aren’t…. I think….

    What would be a useful article EA, and it may well be in your pipeline already, but how you are responding to the market at the moment. How has it impacted your plan and what options there are to try to take some advantage of the potential discounts on offer? Personally I’ve already done this years ISA limit and now weighing up SIPPs or whether to increase cash holdings? I know you can’t give direct advice, but options and weighted argument in favour vs risk would be interesting….

    All the best and look forward to reading more,
    Stay safe!

  14. Van Dieu · · Reply

    “The same wind blows on us all; the winds of disaster, opportunity and change. Therefore, it is not the blowing of the wind, but the setting of the sails that will determine our direction in life.” – Jim Rohn

  15. […] Positive actions to take to improve your chances if you’re infected – The Escape Artist […]

  16. […] Positive actions to take to improve your chances if you’re infected – The Escape Artist […]

  17. […] me, CV-19 has been a reminder to focus on what you can control and ignore the noise in the media.  I’ve been eating clean, walking and taking vitamin C and D […]

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