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HOW TO STAY SAFE AMID POLLUTION IN COVID-19 TIMES

With air pollution rising alarmingly in the city, doctors fear that it would lead to a major spike in Covid-19 cases. It’s a lethal cocktail that threatens to take infections to new, dangerous levels.

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Air pollution does not always cause serious lung problems right away but can create complications in the long run. Dry throat, sore throat, cough, feeling of blocked nostrils (when you do not have a cold), hoarseness of voice, breathlessness while climbing stairs or after mild workouts among other symptoms might be caused by air pollution. “We do not pay much attention to these symptoms on a routine basis, but with time, such issues build up and compromise the airway mechanisms, damage cells in the lungs, and affect the blood vessels as well,” says Dr Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher at StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt Ltd, Navi Mumbai. The national capital, among other states, was already bearing the brunt of stubble burning and Diwali celebrations added to it leading to increased pollution levels. Even young individuals are suffering from such conditions because of the current scenario. Air pollution should not be neglected as it can lead to serious health hazards. However, by taking simple and effective steps, people can stay safe and healthy.

Air pollution badly affects the lungs; similarly, Covid-19 causes inflammation in the lining of the windpipe and lungs. Both reduce the immunity and ultimately increase the vulnerability to the infection. When you have injured and inflamed lungs and a certain dose of the virus enters into the lungs, such people will be more prone to infection than a person with healthy lungs, asserts Dr (Col) Vijay Dutta, internal & respiratory medicine at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.

“Post-Diwali we have got several patients who have recovered and are complaining about chest and breathing problems again. This is because their immune system is still running low. Having lung problems because of air pollution is aggravating the issues of Covid positive patients. Inflamed lungs will be more prone to infection than healthy lungs. We are recommending air purifiers and asking patients to keep indoor plants for better recovery and avoid going out these days, eat healthy and avoid morning walks as well,” adds Dr Dutta.

Air pollution is directly responsible for an increased number of people suffering from asthma. In the long term, air pollution can increase the non-communicable disease burden of India by making more people develop diseases of heart, lungs, and blood vessels, to mention a few. Elderly people, babies and young children are more at risk. Those living in urban slum clusters and crowded, poorly-ventilated houses are also vulnerable to air pollution, says Kamal Narayan – CEO of Integrated Health & Wellbeing (IHW) Council.

“Lower winter temperatures and the rise in pollution levels caused by the burning of crop stubble in North India could lead to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Typically Asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) infections are known to go up at this time of the year. People who have recovered from Covid-19 remain particularly susceptible as their lungs are still weak. Therefore, wearing masks and following social distancing norms is a must during this period and will not only help to avoid Covid but respiratory infections as well,” says Dr Gurpreet Sandhu, president of Council for Healthcare and Pharma.

“Environmental exposure plays a vital role in pregnancy. Approximately 6-8% risk has been associated with exposure to air pollution for pregnant women by increasing toxic chemicals in the blood and causing immune system stress, which can weaken the placenta covering the fetus and lead to preterm birth. Preterm babies born with low birth weight are susceptible to infections like pneumonia, asthma as lungs of such babies are weak and not fully developed. High pollution environment can also damage the brain and other organs of newborns,” says Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, gynaecologist and obstetrician and IVF expert at Nurture IVF Centre.

Parents must watch all symptoms which may indicate any respiratory problem in newborns, recurring cough, chest tightness, difficulty in breathing, clear watery discharge from the nose and sneezing should be informed to a doctor, suggests Dr Bajaj.

“A pregnant woman needs to be alert and take effective measures to protect herself from harmful air pollution by avoiding toxic air exposure, use of air purifier, avoid exposure to dust and use organic repellents, avoid travelling in congested areas as it increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, lung cancer and other chronic lungs diseases,” adds Dr Bajaj.

According to reports, approximately 40% of all respiratory tract infections, and almost 20% of coronary diseases and diabetes cases are caused by air pollution. Residing in areas with poor air condition exacerbates such medical conditions and makes respiratory illnesses deadlier. This has become a major concern for Covid-19 as well. Several diabetes-related factors such as poor glycemic control can affect the body’s immune system. “When a person suffers from viral infections such as Covid-19, diabetes patients are likely to find it more challenging to manage the condition. It can also lead to secondary bacterial infections in the lungs, etc,” emphasises Dr Manoj Chawla, director and consultant diabetologist at Lina Diabetes Care & Mumbai Diabetes Research Centre. Short-term exposure to air pollution can increase your immediate risk of having a stroke if you have existing risk factors, such as high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation (AF) or diabetes. Studies have suggested that people who have a heart ailment and are living in areas where air pollution is worst are significantly more likely to have a stroke.

Dr Chawla advises, “Avoid outdoor exercises and walks in open spaces where there is a lot of smog and air pollution. Wearing face masks is necessary as it provides protection from air pollution as well as the virus. Frequent hand-washing with soap and water especially before consuming food or touching the face is recommended. Managing diabetes levels is an absolute must. Diabetics should regularly monitor their blood glucose levels and adhere to prescribed medications.”

The government needs to invest more in energy-efficient housing and power generation and manage industry and municipal waste effectively, opines Dr Sandhu. He adds, “The government must take steps to control the burning of agricultural waste and crop residue and prevent forest fires. It must encourage safe and affordable public transport systems and pedestrian- and cycle-friendly tracks. Strict rules and regulations must be enforced for pollution emitting sources and stricter action must be taken against those who break the law.”

Adding to it, Dr Mahajan says, “Government is making efforts to curb the spread of pollution; however, it is also our duty to protect our body and cell-based therapy, functional medicine, and a disciplined lifestyle are a step towards ensuring healthy lungs and overall health.” Every person should make an effort to modify their lifestyle by understanding what their body needs and adopt healthy habits as well as focus on enhancing the overall well-being.

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Health & Wellness

Mental health pandemic could be the next big crisis: Psychonnect battles the stigma, launches ‘ARK’ charter

As the world battles a ravaging pandemic, in an exclusive conversation with NewsX, Psychonnect held a riveting discussion around Mental Health: The Next Invisible Pandemic. The expert panelists on the show were Diya Ganguly Mallick, Psychotherapist (UK) & Co-founder, Psychonnect, and Dr. Eleanor Avinor, Ph.D. & Psychotherapist (Israel).

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As the world battles a ravaging pandemic, in an exclusive conversation with NewsX, Psychonnect held a riveting discussion around Mental Health: The Next Invisible Pandemic. The expert panelists on the show were Diya Ganguly Mallick, Psychotherapist (UK) & Co-founder, Psychonnect, and Dr. Eleanor Avinor, Ph.D. & Psychotherapist (Israel) and audience included Ramya Aswathnarayana, Associate Psychologist & Project Coordinator, Psychonnect, Megha Rudrapati, Art Therapist & Course Coordinator, Psychonnect and Shreyah Mantri, Brand Development Manager, Psychonnect. 

Addressing the various challenges of Mental Health, Diya, Psychotherapist (UK) & Co-founder, Psychonnect, said “The problem with mental health is we don’t understand its pain points and triggers. Slowly it’s going to enter inside your body, but one will still not know about it or understand its concern, because it’s not tangible, it’s not visible. That is why as a professional, we want to raise awareness on the subject. It’s absolutely necessary. Now to understand the huge wide spectrum mental health challenges can have, whether be the occasional instances of anger, or the existential crisis of depression, these all fall under the realm of mental health. The work we are doing at Psychonnect is creating awareness for people to understand that this is a serious issue and there is no health without mental health.”

Psychonnect is a Premier Mental Health Platform that facilitates Mental well-being, diagnostics, counseling & therapy service. Talking about the thought behind founding the organization Diya said “In the UK I had an opportunity to create an ecosystem that will merge or confluence the traditional approaches we have in India with empirical approaches of the West so that people can have a holistic form of treatment and get more awareness globally. We need more professionals to equip them with the right skills in order to go out and train people and address this issue unless and until we reach a stage where everybody is at least aware of their own mental health and well being.”

Dr. Eleanor Avinor, Author & Psychotherapist based in Israel shared her insights on the mental challenges owing to the pandemic that we as a global community shared and felt the common experience. “Nowadays, stress and anxiety are everywhere. And everybody has it. It is vital for us to know how to lower it, and how to understand what triggers us. Therefore, psychotherapy is important and it can help everybody. Violence in the family or in the whole world is one of the main points that we deal with. Typically, a third of the world population is suffering from anxiety, and depression, or anger, or loneliness. it’s contagious and everybody’s feeling very upset, especially because of the social distancing. People don’t have the contact that they want.”

Stressing on the fears that people feel while seeking help and how stigmatized issues of mental health still continue to be, Dr. Eleanor elaborated “Many people don’t get help because they are afraid of the negative stigma. Others don’t have the money, sometimes it is very expensive to get professional help, and sometimes there is no professional solution available. And that’s what we’re trying to do now is to prepare professional solutions that anybody can go to and anybody can get help. People have to feel accepted to be happy and everybody needs some sort of psychological help. People need somebody to share with and discuss the problems when and they need help to look at their problems and dilemmas from a different perspective in a positive and effective way. We have patterns that we’ve learned as babies and we’re connected to these patterns. Sometimes they don’t work for us but they worked for us when they were babies. We have to learn to look at these patterns of behavior, the way of thinking that we have, and maybe change them.”

Talking about how it is possible to come up with a large scale of the pattern and the individual context in mental health and generalize something at that scale, Dr. Eleanor shared insights from her professional experiences “Not everything is biochemical. Our thoughts determine how we feel, and how we feel determines how we behave. Actually, we have to be giving you the thoughts, and that’s not medicine. There are medical solutions for people who have schizophrenia, or maybe manic depressive disorders that need medication. While some people need medication but many people need medication together with psychotherapy and talking. I worked in a hospital for many years in the Psychiatric Unit. We had clients, some of them got medication, some of them got only talks, and some of them got both. People need to talk.” 

Taking steps to make mental wellbeing “a lifestyle statement” Psychonnect has come up with the A-R-K (Awareness – Recognition – Knowledge) Charter which can be a self-healing tool for everybody. Throwing light on how the Charter aims to take the first steps towards understanding, appreciating & respecting the relevance and importance of Mental Health Wellbeing, Diya told us “Whether it’s depression, or anxiety or any trauma, or PTSD, which is very common when there is a pandemic you can visit our website and talk and literally express your concerns. At the same time, we are building a PR network and support groups where we are actually bringing people who already have a history of mental illness so that they can share their experiences and people can learn from it.”

Adding to the discussion Ramya Aswathnarayana, Associate Psychologist threw attention towards children of various ages and how is it possible to grasp the mental health challenges of them during pandemic who might not be able to self-diagnose. Dr. Elenor said it’s very important to see and understand how our children feel and that everybody needs somebody to love. Diya further added that it is very important to understand that this particular trauma-related to COVID-19 might be very difficult for any children to express their concerns. “Children are usually attached to a routine of going to school, meeting their friends, sitting in a particular classroom, and you’ve taken all those pleasures out of their life and introduced a new form of learning or a new form of making friends or interacting. This can be very overwhelming, and not necessarily they will know that it is stressing them out. For that reason, one can be spending some quality time, maybe going through a picture of family and engaging them in small things and perhaps through that you can actually tap into.”

Dr. Eleanor elaborating on whether there is an international sort of consensus or international perspective on mental health said “ The Coronavirus pandemic is worldwide and hence it is an international problem as it concerns everybody the world over, In other words, everybody has some problems, and when they’re under stress, like such and they are afraid that people close to them will die intensifies the problems. People have to learn to be kind to themselves, to have self-compassion. You can’t be kind to others if you’re not kind to yourself. That’s one of the things we have to teach people in psychotherapy because some people are crying themselves, they don’t do things that make them feel good. They don’t accept themselves, they don’t accept your faults, and so they don’t accept others. So in other words, you have to learn to be kind and this will make the world that kind of place. People also have to seek and find within themselves barriers and all of us who are working in the mental health field know that children build barriers inside themselves. In a time of need, and a time like such all these things come to the surface.”

Diya adding to this said “Today there is a global consensus on the fact that mental health is going to be the next invisible pandemic, because even when COVID becomes a distant reality, members still will face the aftermath of it, because of the emotional and psychological sufferings one is going through. Many families and individuals didn’t even get to say the last goodbye to their loved ones and there are people who have gone through ventilations and treatment, and that itself can be post-traumatic for them.  That is why it’s important to understand and not only for mental health professionals but as a community be sensitive to this issue.”

Connecting practitioners, world-leading experts, and institutes from across the world with their clients, students & partners at Psychonnect, Diya said “Our main agenda is to create awareness on the subject which needs you to understand their trigger points and understand why they are behaving the way we do. At Psychonnect we are constantly building multilingual content so that you don’t have to come online but you have easily accessible WhatsApp videos or even a booklet to manage the different emotions they go through at different points of the day. Changing routines can be very unsettling and anxiety-provoking for such people. We actually not only teach them the traditional theories, but we also give them case studies, role plays, and how they can then translate this knowledge with real-life clients.”

Psychonnect is actively working to make resources available and translating into different multilingual contexts such as Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi so that many people who are not that comfortable with English still will have access to this material and understand that there are real mental health challenges. Megha Rudrapati, Art Therapist addressed the issue that most of the research or even approaches on Mental Health that we rely on are from the west, and hence when can we create a knowledge base of our own that is more culturally relevant to our population and also help us make mental health as equally valued and efficient here in India as well. 

Dr. Elenor focusing on the cultural correlation said “Every culture has stories that you can build on. One of the things I would be doing is collecting the stories and using them with people and hence connecting those stories to their private lives and what they can learn from them.” 

Diya on the other hand stressed de-stigmatizing and raising awareness about mental health back in India and said “I think it’s important to understand in our culture when it comes to mental health there’s a massive stigma, first of all, we need to address that people who are battling any kind of mental health challenges, have been subjected to unfair treatment and discrimination, or being tagged as lunatics. We need to move from that and that’s the first thing we need to do when it comes to India. Moreover, we are kind of short-staffed when it comes to mental health.”

“First, we need to make the right kind of interventions available and make our community aware that this is a serious issue making relevant help available to them and most importantly, it’s very important now to understand that mental health illness, must be under, I would say the ambit of all these life insurance or medical coverages. Until and unless we do that in our society people won’t see mental illness as the same as physical dysfunctions, they will never give that respect,” concluded Diya. 

To know more about the ARK Charter, visit: www.psychonnect.com/a-r-k-charter

Watch the entire telecast here: 

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Health & Wellness

FIVE ASANAS THAT YOU SHOULD PRACTISE DURING WINTERS

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Winter is a time of hibernation for many considering the cold mornings and the chilly nights. Lack of activity results in the muscles of the body becoming stiff and gradually leading to weight gain. Therefore, it is necessary to cultivate a discipline that can keep us working out in the winter season. Combine regular exercise routine along with a healthy nutritious diet to manage your weight. Staying active not only keeps you physically fit and mentally happy but it also brings in numerous other benefits. Yoga is a holistic science for overall well-being which improves your metabolism and digestive process.

Yoga is a tool for wellness to keep our bodies and minds productively occupied. Yoga brings dynamism and positivity into life. Less exposure to sunlight during winters leads to Vitamin D deficiency which can make you feel weak and dull. Yoga can help you to feel energetic and keeps laziness at bay. Follow these 5 simple poses and include them in your daily or weekly exercise regimen.

URDVA MUKHI: ADOMUKHI MARJARIASANA (CAT COW POSE)

To perform this Cat Cow stretch, gently bring your knees down to the ground and place your palms under your shoulders. Inhale, curl your spine and look up. As you exhale arch your back to drop your chin low and look towards your navel.

KAPOTASANA VARIATION

Step with your left knee in between your palms. Open the heel out as much as you can and keep the back straight. Place one palm on your knee and the other palm on your foot as you try to straighten your back. Do only as much as you can. Inhale and look up. Repeat with the other leg.

MATSYENDRASANA

Start in Vajrasana, slowly straighten the left leg fold and place the foot on the other side of the right thigh. Twist your body turning towards the left bringing your right shoulder across the left knee to look back. Your right hand can hold your left foot, ankle, or toe. Place the left palm behind your back with a straight spine and look back. Repeat on the other side.

EKA PADA MARICHIASANA

Start in Malasana, stretch any one leg out and reach out with the same hand to hold your big toe. Ensure that your pelvis remains on the ground and your second foot is flat.

PRASARITA PADANGUSHTASANA

Sit down with a straight back and lift your feet, folding your legs and grabbing your big toes. Balance as you straighten both legs and open them as wide as possible. Keep your back straight and look forward.

Yoga contains many differentpractices such as physical postures, pranayama, meditation, mudras, and much more. These are techniques that can invigorate the mind, uplift your mood and strengthen your body. If you want to bring in a cardio element to your workout, you can practice Himalaya Pranam. The Himalaya Pranam is derived from the ancient tradition of the Himalayas; it is an 11-step flow of movements which contains backbends, forward bends etc. This is a powerful sequence that can heat the body and keep excess fat away.

Practice these asanas holding each posture for 20 seconds and repeat up to three sets.

The writer is an internationally acclaimed spiritual yogic master, author and TEDx speaker

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BIRTH DEFECTS CAN BE CORRECTED, DON’T IGNORE OR DELAY

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Every year over 1.7 million children in India are born with birth defects. Birth defects are common and are one of the major causes of infant hospitalisation. They are also called as congenital abnormalities or congenital anomalies. Birth defects are the major cause of infant deaths which may occur as early as a few days after birth. The birth defects can result in a long term disability with a significant impact on the individuals, their families, and also on society. As per the recent newsletter of WHO, an estimated 2,95,000 newborns die within 28 days of birth every year worldwide due to congenital anomalies.

A birth defect can be of physical malformations, that is the abnormal development of any organ of the body like heart defects, club foot, cleft-lip or chromosomal abnormalities like down syndrome or functional defects like congenital deafness or congenital blindness. While some birth defects affect the functions of normal human living severely, others can be a minor defect which is not so visible externally. As per the latest newsletter of WHO, the most common severe congenital anomalies are heart defects, neural tube defects and down syndrome.

CAUSES OF BIRTH DEFECTS

Most babies are born healthy. However, some may have birth defects. In approximately 50% of babies born with congenital abnormalities, the exact cause is unknown and the fetus develops them during pregnancy period. Birth defects are common globally. Family health history, age of the parents, care during pregnancy, and other factors are part of the risk factors.

Some of the causes are:

– Genetic

– Socioeconomic and Demographic factors (maternal age)

– Certain medications

– Exposure to chemicals

– Infections during pregnancy

– Maternal nutritional status

– A combination of the above causes

SURGICAL TREATMENT OPTIONS

With the advancement in health care, many birth defects can be diagnosed before birth with accuracy. Complete cure is possible through various paediatric surgeries for many structural birth defects and also its impact can be reduced.

Early treatment is possible for many functional abnormalities like congenital blood abnormalities such as (Thalassemia, sickle cell disease), and congenital hypothyroidism (decreased functioning of thyroid). Remember, surgical treatment options are available for most physical birth defects.

The most common structural defects and the surgical interventions to treat it are listed below:

Heart defects: There are a wide variety of cardiac abnormalities that affects the flow of blood through the heart and impacts the heart’s functioning and development. Depending on the heart’s abnormality, surgery can range from minor to open-heart surgery using a heart-lung machine, which will take over the functioning of the heart and lungs so that the surgeon can perform the surgery.

Spina bifida: In this condition, a portion of the babies spinal cord is exposed to the outside without overlying muscle and skin cover. Surgical repair is essential to prevent further injury and infection of the exposed spinal cord. A neurosurgeon replaces the exposed part of the spinal cord in the spinal canal and closes the defect with muscle and the skin.

Cleft lip or palate: Here the infant’s lip or the roof of the mouth has an opening or split. The surgery aims to close the separation in the lip and or roof of the mouth and provide a more normal function and appearance of the upper lip.

Club foot: When the infant’s foot is pointing inwards instead of outward, we call the condition as club foot. Surgeries are done to align the foot in a normal position by releasing and lengthening the tight tendons.

Birth defects can have a lasting impact on a child’s life if left untreated. Advancements in medical science allow us to correct these birth defects at a very early stage. Hence, consult your pediatrician and take their advice on the treatment. Hospitals are safe to visit and all precautions for patients’ safety are taken with utmost care.

The writer is senior consultant, obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia Asia Hospital, Sarjapur Road, Bengaluru.

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WHY HEART ATTACKS ARE ON THE RISE AMONG THE YOUNG

Various factors can be attributed to increased cases of heart attacks among youth. Doctors and health experts share the possible causes and preventive measures.

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When former cricketer Sourav Ganguly, 48 years old and extremely fit, suffered a heart attack early this month, it came as a shocking reminder to many of us: That this health issue, once believed to be affecting the old people, is increasingly occurring in younger men and women. Doctors suggest taking precautions such as controlling diabetes, high blood pressure, body weight, cholesterol, undergoing regular cardiac evaluation and quitting smoking as well as exercising and consuming a balanced diet.

Asked about the possible reasons behind the surge in heart attacks among young men and women, Dr Abhinit Gupta, consultant interventional cardiology, Regency Superspeciality Hospital, Kanpur replies, “There is convenience of technology coupled with modern lifestyle, the young population has become more inactive than ever and thus there is a surge in cardiac issues among the age-group of 21-40 due to their sedentary lifestyle. Sitting for long periods is associated with worse health outcomes including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. Poor and sedentary lifestyle, bingeing on alcohol and smoking among the younger population are some of the factors that not only add the risk for diabetes and hypertension but also affect the proper heart functioning in the long run. Apart from a person’s genetic disposition and family history which are the most common and uncontrollable risk factors, the youth are succumbing to heart ailments due to poor lifestyle, stress and erratic sleep patterns.”

Dr Gupta advises incorporating some simple lifestyle changes: consuming a healthy balanced diet, being physically active, doing regular exercise, no smoking and controlling blood cholesterol and sugar levels can prevent the occurrence of heart attacks in young individuals. These can reduce the risk of CHD, stroke and dementia and also have other health benefits.

Dr Yugal Kishore Mishra, chief of clinical services, head of cardiac sciences and chief cardiovascular surgeon, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals says, “This is the winter time and our hospital is witnessing a huge influx of cardiac patients. We are witnessing that a lot of young men and women are coming to us with heart ailments. This has been observed that it is not a sudden surge but a gradual one where young people are getting heart attacks. In my practice, I have operated several young patients, even 22-years old patients with coronary heart diseases. I have performed numerous heart bypass surgeries in adults from 20 to 50 years age group. As such in India, coronary heart disease is 10 years younger than the western counterpart because of genetics.”

Talking about the risk factors and how to mitigate them, Dr Bipeenchandra Bhamre, cardiothoracic surgeon, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai says, “there are several risk factors for heart attack. Coronary artery disease is multifactorial. Diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, smoking, lack of exercises, tobacco use, and familial heart disease. Some of the risk factors are controllable and some are uncontrollable like genetic or familial factors. The remaining risk factors are controllable like if you are using tobacco in any form like smoking, chewing, etc, by quitting tobacco you can give yourself the best gift. By quitting smoking you can reduce the risk of heart disease significantly. Similarly, if you have high blood pressure, high sugar, or cholesterol you need periodic checkups and take your medications on time. Remember heart disease has not remained the disease affecting people of over 65 years of age, it’s affecting the younger population as well. So, if you get chest pain or shortness of breath, get yourself checked by a doctor immediately.” Avoid fried and salty food. Regular exercise is the best medicine to avoid heart disease. Simple brisk walking for 40 minutes per day has shown to decrease cardiovascular disease significantly, he adds.

“We receive an average of 300-400 patients a month with heart diseases between December to February every year. However, this year, we have seen an average of 500 to 600 patients a month since November, which is nearly a 50% rise from the past years. One reason is that the temperature in Delhi and many parts of north India started dropping since November that narrows blood vessels and increases heart rate and blood pressure. The recent hike in the number of Covid-19 infected people has substantially affected their hearts, especially in people with pre-existing heart problems or other comorbidities. Doctors advise that people with heart conditions and those who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past few months need extra care to prevent any fatal heart condition during winters. Such people must take extra care of their hearts, “ points out Dr Ashish Agarwal, senior consultant and head, Department of Cardiology, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka. He adds that they advise them to watch out for chest pain, increasing or extreme shortness of breath with exertion, swelling of the ankles, an irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, waking up at night short of breath, not being able to lie flat without shortness of breath, or feeling lightheaded or dizzy. Dr Agarwal continues, “Depending on the patient, we advise them to undergo regular screening tests to check their heart health. Besides, standard care for the heart in winters apply, such as do regular exercise, avoid fried food and alcohol.”

“The most common heart complications after Covid infection is myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle that could increase the risk of heart failure. A study published in JAMA Cardiology shows 78% of recovered patients have abnormalities in the hearts while 60% have an ‘ongoing myocardial inflammation’. It also found higher levels of troponin, the blood enzyme that is also an indicator of heart damage. Having an incurable viral infection like Covid-19 around during winters can increase the risk of heart failure or heart attack. This is because blood vessels in the body become more constricted due to exposure to extremely cold temperatures in winters that can restrict blood flow to the body and the heart,” says Dr Aseem Dhall, senior cardiologist, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi. Avoid venturing out in cold and if unavoidable, wear enough layers of clothes. If you are travelling to a colder area, ensure not to exert yourself too much and acclimatise well before undertaking any strenuous activity such as hiking/trekking or skiing.

On chances of heart diseases among women, Dr D.K. Jhamb, director and HOD Cardiology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram says: According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 30 Asian women experience heart diseases. This is also one of the leading causes of death after cancer. Some of the reasons behind heart attack in women are diabetes, stress, depression, smoking, menopause, and inflammatory diseases among others.

Diabetes: Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes. Also, because diabetes can change the way you feel pain, you’re at greater risk of having a silent heart attack without symptoms.

Stress and depression: They affect women more than men. Both these conditions make it difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, leading to heart issues.

Smoking: It blocks your arteries and makes you prone to heart attacks.

Menopause: Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk of developing the disease in smaller blood vessels.

Inflammatory diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and others can increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women.

Dr D.K. Jhamb points out that women also tend to have blockages not only in their main arteries but also in the smaller ones that supply blood to the heart — a condition called small vessel heart disease or coronary microvascular disease. “We have been seeing an early onset of heart attack and other cardiovascular issues in young adults. But, it becomes more prevalent in women after 45.” If young women have a family history of diabetes and heart diseases, they should get their vitals checked at a regular period.

Talking about Ischemic heart disease, Dr Bhamre asserts, “Ischemic heart disease or coronary artery disease means blockages in your blood vessels supplying oxygen to the heart muscle. Early symptoms are chest pain after walking or climbing stairs, shortness of breath after walking for a few meters. Some patients get a left shoulder or left arm pain. Some patients experience pain in the jaw, throat or upper abdomen. Pain or discomfort after eating food is also one of the symptoms. Heart symptoms start when we start exerting ourselves. So remember once you get any of the above-mentioned symptoms consult a doctor.”

EARLY SYMPTOMS OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASES

• Pain areas: in the area between shoulder blades, arm, chest, jaw, left arm• Pain types: can be like a clenched fist in the chest

• Pain circumstances: can occur during rest

• Whole body: impending doom, dizziness, fatigue, light-headedness, clammy skin, cold sweat, or sweating

• Gastrointestinal: heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting

• Arm: discomfort or tightness• Neck: discomfort or tightness

—By Dr Narayan Gadkar, consultant cardiologist at Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur

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IMPORTANCE OF MENTAL HYGIENE IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

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In 2020 mental health took centre stage like never before. A topic which more often than not has been ignored, denied, and mocked at, is now one of the most discussed topics. While there has been a huge amount of activism and evangelism around the topic, what many people still don’t realise is that it isn’t a bad word and that we all have “Mental Health”. Mental health is a spectrum, at any point we will be somewhere on that spectrum, it’s just a matter of where you are on the slider of the toggle bar- distressed, ill, or good. How you can work towards maintaining your mental health is by practising mental hygiene, which is being proactive about not only your behaviour but how you treat your body, mind, soul, spirit, and environment. It essentially encompasses your overall well-being. Having said this, the role of medication should never be overlooked, if required. No amount of prayer, exercise or mental exercise can will away a mental ailment that needs medical attention.

Very often we lead our lives on autopilot, without being present at all, dwelling on either the past or the future and ending up neglecting our senses. What’s worse is that we have been conditioned to filter senses that we cannot see, like that of the spirit. Mental hygiene includes even your spiritual sweeping. It is what you do with intent, presence awareness, and acknowledgement of your body, mind, and spiritual form every single day.

The internet, where we have mostly spent the last 10 months is flooded with information on self-care activities to establish your mental hygiene rituals.

A few that top my list are:

1. Practicing gratitude, compassion, kindness towards others and one’s self

2. Keeping a journal

3. Doing Breathwork

4. Decluttering your space and life

5. Going for walks in nature

6. Using Lucia 3 light to meditate

7. Practicing mindfulness in even the small acts

8. Guided and unguided meditation

9. Digital detox, even if just for a few hours

10. Sleeping adequately

11. Movement in any form like dancing, exercising or running.

12. Floating in an isolation tank to meditate

13. Clean eating

14. Getting therapy – the power of professional support is unparalleled

From the ABC’s of Awareness Breath and Circulation to the three MMM’s of Meditation Movement and Mindfulness we know all about them by now. But what I really believe in addition to all this are the three Cs – The power of Communicating Consistently with Communities. Not only are we suffering from touch starvation at this point, but we are also suffering from a basic human connection. A large number of online communities have mushroomed over the past year serving as great support systems to people in their mental health journeys. Even if you aren’t suffering from mental health issues just reaching out to your friends and family regularly can keep your mental health in check. Intimacy is a basic human need that has suffered hugely during this pandemic. There is nothing like the power of holding space for oneself and others. Our mental health flourishes when we see and feel seen. The quality of our relationships also affects our happiness quotient which in return affects the level of neuroplasticity of your brain. The better our relationships, with more resilience we deal with the hardships. Studies have established that loneliness is more prevalent a killer than alcoholism and smoking which can explain the rise in suicides during this pandemic. According to longitudinal studies, the quality of your relationships determines your happiness more than money and fame.

Social media has helped us form new relationships and served as a platform for sharing and exchanging our stories which are wonderful for our mental health, but what has also happened is the flipside – social media and phone anxiety. Scrolling nonstop like a hamster on a wheel can take away from human connection and we may lose the ability to connect face to face eventually. So being mindful while using social media is one of the crucial factors to maintain mental health hygiene. Everyone’s definition of mental hygiene will be different, but what’s important is to reflect on what works best for you. Creating a repository of rituals and habits that make you feel good about your overall well-being will serve you in good stead in the face of adversity.

The writer is a well-being crusader, mental health advocate and Concepteur, Pursuit of Balance.

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Health & Wellness

FOOD AND NUTRITION TRENDS TO FOLLOW IN 2021

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The Covid-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down, drastically influencing our eating behaviour and lifestyle habits. It made people increasingly aware of their food choices and renewed their health interests. Undoubtedly, the next year will be big on health and wellness, but here are some of the diet and nutrition trends that would rule the food landscape in the year 2021.

Immunity boosters

Covid-19 was an ugly reminder that health is transient and one needs to be careful about what they include in their diet to maintain overall well-being. Since people are now aware that a healthy immune system could prevent them from certain illnesses, they are leaning towards immunity-boosting food items and health supplements as a precautionary measure. Thus, consumption of immunity boosters will continue in 2021. Alternative remedies such as herbal supplements have also come in the spotlight and become one of the top-selling commodities. Furthermore, purpose-driven ingredients such as Vitamin A, C, D, E, probiotics, zinc, selenium, etc. would remain at the forefront of the food industry as they persist to create a buzz in the healthcare sector.

Sustainable eating practices

The increasing awareness of climate change and the environment has encouraged people to adopt sustainable eating practices. Instead of choosing from two extreme spectrums, such as veganism and meat-eating, many people are now focusing on foods that tend to put less impact on the climate. For instance, a consumer who eats meat every day can reduce their intake and include more plant-based meals to lower their environmental footprint. Even choosing locally grown produce can lower carbon emissions. People are moving beyond the all-or-nothing approach, and making small changes that can collectively make a large difference in the environment.

Comfort foods with a twist

Consumers are increasingly leaning towards home-cooked meals and comfort foods, which remind them of happier and less turbulent times. To ensure that the home-cooked meals don’t taste bland, people are giving a modern twist to classic dishes with exotic flavours and ingredients. Instead of seasoning dishes with plain salt and pepper or olive oil dressing, expect the flavour-boosted sauces and snappy spices to trend in 2021.

Coloured veggies will be front and centre

Over the years, diet trends have evolved tremendously, but one nutritional advice that has remained constant is to include more coloured vegetables in the diet. Vegetables are a powerhouse of nutrients, which play a crucial role in reducing our risk of chronic diseases and boosting immunity. In 2021, as part of an effort to maintain sound health, people would surely prioritise incorporating more fresh and coloured veggies in their diet.

Back to basics

There is a high probability that weight loss programs and restrictive diets will fall out of favour this year as people might seek a more wholesome, balanced, and sustainable approach to health. With the rising number of audiences on social media, nutritionists and health experts are busting myths about diets and nutrition, which have encouraged more people to consume natural foods. As the conversation about body positivity is advancing, many people are no longer aiming to fit into a certain weight scale as maintaining good health has become the utmost priority. Eating all kinds of food in moderation for a balanced diet will become a positive diet trend of 2021.

Personalised nutrition

As lifestyle-specific customisable nutrition services are gaining traction, personalised nutrition shall remain one of the top trends of 2021. Technological advances and the ever-expanding food choices is allowing people to embrace a more individual approach to eating and move beyond tailored diets. As every individual has a different body type, weight goal, BMI, or medical problems, a universal nutritional approach would not suffice. Therefore, personalised nutrition is the need of the hour to cater to an individual’s specific needs.

The writer is a Ludhiana-based dietitian.

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