When the SAR-CoV-2 pandemic first swept across Britain in early 2020, infectious diseases consultant and U.P. client, Victor, was working in a busy London hospital and witnessed first-hand the terrible effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable patients with compromised health.
When the lockdown was initially enforced, the 33 year old ensured he stayed as fit and healthy as possible during the most demanding period in his medical career by taking up online training.
With his position and outlook, there are few people better positioned to speak about the importance of optimising health to protect against the most extreme ravages of COVID-19.
Now that the initial shockwave of deaths of vulnerable people has passed, medical consultant Victor is urging people to focus on improving their lifestyle and health to help dramatically reduce the risk of serious illness or death and hopefully prevent or lessen the impact of a global second wave of infections.
Victor, who was involved in strategic planning around COVID-19 in hospitals, says: “We know for a fact that there are certain populations at a higher risk of getting a severe infection – it comes down to whether they have certain pre-existing risk factors or they don’t.”
“These risk factors include obesity, hypertension, diabetes, age, any chronic diseases – especially if it is a respiratory disease – or any condition that affects the immune system.”
“There’s a massive difference [in risk] between people who have no medical health background or chronic conditions as opposed to people who have risk factors, like obesity, hypertension, diabetes and so on.“
“There is a massive gap between them in terms of mortality and severity of that disease whenever they get it.”
Victor says that while some of these conditions can be genetic in nature, they are usually caused or exacerbated by poor lifestyle habits. But he says these lifestyle habits – particularly around food and exercise – can be modified to improve health and cut down the risk of severe COVID-19 complications.
“Some risk factors are not modifiable, like age, for example. You can’t get younger. But many of them you can improve, like obesity and hypertension.“
“It is very important to have a healthy lifestyle, to exercise and to have a proper diet; otherwise you end up with these risk factors which can end up being deadly if you get COVID. “
“The risk factors, most of the time, can be preventable with a healthy lifestyle – with a healthy diet and exercise.“
“We know that exercise, apart from preventing you from gaining weight, also boosts the immune system.”
“So if you can have a healthy lifestyle from now on and make sure you exercise, be more careful about what you eat, and get better sleep, if a second surge comes then you should be in a better position.”
Practising what he preaches
It was improving health that was the catalyst that led Victor to start his own transformation journey with Ultimate Performance last year.
Moving to London had meant his exercise habits fell by the wayside. Then his health took a turn for the worst when he was diagnosed with a chronic digestive condition.
“I started back in November as I had recently been diagnosed with a disease. The medication I was taking had a lot of side effects, but it also made me gain weight. I was having a lot of symptoms with the disease, and I wasn’t feeling great at that moment.”
“I tried to live a healthy lifestyle, but I had just moved to London, and I didn’t know many people. I didn’t have a regular schedule or a regular person to train with. I joined U.P. for extra help because I wanted a healthy lifestyle and didn’t want to gain more weight.”
Twelve weeks of working alongside a personal trainer on a goal-focused programme made a huge difference to his health and his body composition.
He lost weight, gained better control of his diet, and his symptoms improved significantly.
“I did three months. I could see the changes very quickly. I lost a total of 10kg – it made a massive difference. I saw weight loss, I gained muscle mass, and the symptoms of my disease also got much better probably because of the change in diet.
“It has changed my life. My condition is one that will not go away – it will be there forever. I still take medication for it, and I will have to take it for the rest of my life, but I have almost no symptoms now because of the diet and the exercise.”
When the pandemic struck, and lockdown came into force, Victor was thrown into an unprecedented situation helping the hospital manage the influx of COVID patients.
He had stopped training and saw his weight creeping up. So he made the decision to start training again to maintain his health and give him a positive focus during a challenging time with his job.
“I stopped exercising for a period, and I gained 2kg in two weeks, so I thought if this continues, it will end up badly. When lockdown started, I just wanted to continue exercising. So I decided to continue, and things went smoothly.”
He joined U.P.’s Lockdown Programme, invested in some resistance bands, dumbbells and a kettlebell and was able to do online workouts with his trainer, Dominik, via Skype.
Victor says it gave him a much-needed outlet outside of long and demanding shifts at the hospital.
“It gave me a focus because the first few weeks of lockdown I was working a lot and studying and not doing any exercise at all. So this helped me to continue exercising and keep my body shape. It was just good to help release some endorphins and for wellbeing. You also forget what’s going on when you’re at work. You can leave everything behind and offload, and you’re ready to go to bed.”
Being on a structured programme helped keep his good habits around exercise and diet in place during a period where maintaining optimal health really mattered.
“The first time I did the programme back in November, I was taking medication which reduces the immune response and modulates the immune system, so I’m not sure what the effect of COVID-19 would have been if I had caught it. Apart from that, I had no risk factors. I was not in a high-risk population. But having a healthy lifestyle puts you in a better position.
“Everybody around me got it – my colleagues had symptoms, but I never had any symptoms. We know for a fact that exercise is good for the immune system. Of course, I can’t tell whether that was a reason or not why I didn’t have symptoms or never caught the disease.”
But Victor understands more than most the importance of good health, especially with uncertain times ahead as the global pandemic continues.
For him, it has been an investment in his health that will keep paying dividends for years to come.
“The experience at U.P. changed my life in many ways. I’ve learned the importance of a good healthy lifestyle, in terms of exercise and diet. It should be considered a long-term investment.”