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.
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.
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. Some of them act in your best interests. 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.