We are all worried about our health at the moment. The effects of contracting Covid-19 can be serious and even life-threatening for the most vulnerable. On top of that, coronavirus and WFH are causing a mental health crisis: some people with conditions such as anxiety and OCD are experiencing a flare-up of their symptoms.
Yet despite the gloom, there are flickers of hope. Coronavirus and the associated lockdown has produced some surprising health benefits as people invest more time and energy looking after themselves.
Here are some reasons to be optimistic about the future.
The dire effect that Covid-19 can have on the lungs has encouraged 300,000 people in Britain alone to stop smoking and pushed another 550,000 to try to give up the habit, according to research from YouGov and Action on Smoking and Health.
The lungs begin to repair themselves almost immediately after you stop smoking, with function increasing up to 10 per cent within nine months, according to the NHS. After a year, your risk of heart disease halves; after a decade the chance of getting lung cancer is half of that of a smoker. Even the heaviest smokers can see improvement, no matter their age. A hashtag, #QuitForCovid, is mobilising those on social media to give up the habit.
Drinking is down – for some
With parties, pub trips and long lunches cancelled, many people’s drinking habits have been hugely disturbed. By and large that has been a good thing: only one in five is drinking more often instead, according to research by charity Alcohol Change UK. One in three has completely stopped drinking. A month off drinking can lead to reduced blood pressure, fewer headaches, weight loss and improved liver function, according to the Priory Group.
Eight out of 10 people say they feel that people are doing more to help each other, and two thirds have checked in on a neighbour, according to the Office for National Statistics. Covid-19 Mutual Aid is an example of this: a nationwide network of volunteers giving up their time to help out neighbours who are struggling.
This increased trust in others and sense of community is crucial for our physical and mental health, say experts.
The major relationships in our lives – children, spouses, close friends – are the most important for wellbeing, they say.
“It’s not just core relationships that matter, it’s also the peripheral ones,” says Prof Lord Richard Layard, a happiness researcher at the London School of Economics. “People never look at each other in the street but now some people are.” He says that refusing to engage positively with strangers is not a natural way of being. “It’s unknown in rural communities,” he says. “We have a long way to go to restore normal society.”
Many have more time than before to exercise. Others are opting to travel on foot or bike to avoid the infection risk of going on public transport.
All of this is adding up to a boom in cycling.
While there is not yet concrete data about the time spent exercising, there is anecdotal evidence from doctors that people are getting more active.
“The majority of people I speak to are doing it, and not just getting out doing exercise but also doing it indoors too, doing online dance, yoga, Pilates and exercise classes,” says Dr Mike Holmes, a practising GP and vice-chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “The fact people are limited to going out just for exercise is making them do it,” he says.
We’re getting in our cars much less than usual as there is no school run and fewer are driving to work. This has led to a huge drop in air pollution, according to research from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
Levels of nitrogen dioxide have fallen by 36 per cent and PM10 particulates have dropped by nine per cent compared to this time last year. This has led to fewer premature births, asthma attacks and new cases of asthma, according to the UK report.
With the attention of the world focused on the dreaded Covid-19, it is easy to forget about other infectious diseases. But transmission of influenza almost vanished across Europe between late March and April, while we were sheltered inside our homes, according to EU data and scientists.
The winter flu season in the northern hemisphere usually runs from October until mid-May, and in bad years it can claim as many lives as have died so far from Covid-19, albeit over a much longer period. But Holger Rabenau, of the Frankfurt University Hospital, says that the European flu season “ended earlier” this year due to social distancing measures employed across the continent, with just 4,000 flu patients requiring intensive care treatment so far, according to data from 11 European countries, about half the number of the previous two seasons. However, some of the drop might be explained by under-reporting, experts say, with more flu patients avoiding hospital this year in case they catch coronavirus.
With restaurants and pubs shuttered across the country, there is little option but to cook most of our meals at home, and there are signs that our diet has improved under lockdown – although some have increased their expenditure on takeaways.
According to a survey many are using more fresh-based produce in their meals and others turning to plant-based alternatives.
We’re also eating and wasting less by ignoring best-before dates, cutting down waste, and piling less food on to their plates. More than half (57 per cent) said they placed a higher value on food during lockdown, with 43 per cent enjoying it more.
Sense of purpose
The feeling that you are part of something that is greater than yourself is crucial for your wellbeing, whether it’s a religion, cause or organisation. The shared struggle has provided a sense of belonging: more than 750,000 people have signed up to volunteer for the NHS, three times the Government’s target.
This sense of meaning and purpose is so important that Action for Happiness has marked it as one of the 10 key components of a happy life. “A sense of meaning is so important for our wellbeing, but sometimes it takes a crisis to wake us up,” says Dr Williamson.
The Daily Telegraph