Covid’s knock-on health benefits


KEEP GOING Keeping up lockdown’s increased exercise levels will lower your risk of all sorts of diseases.

Lockdown changes could do much more than help protect us from Covid-19

Andrew O'Brien

‘I’ve got to break free’. I’m pretty sure Freddie Mercury had other issues in mind, but the sentiment rings true. Thankfully we have been largely liberated and lockdown is all but over. Life is nearly normal.
I’m a little bit of a numbers geek. During the dark days of the pandemic, I tried to avoid the news because the constant counting of cases started to get me down. Every day there would be the national number, a county-by-county breakdown, the UK and US would rate a mention, worldwide figures had to be mentioned. Most people I spoke to wanted to know what the numbers were like in Australia. Numbers, numbers, numbers. It would be enough to make you scream.
That was until my true numbers geek revealed itself. What percentage of the Irish population was actually diagnosed with Covid-19? Has anyone asked that question? As I sit here this morning, there have been just over 25,200 confirmed cases in Ireland, and there are over 4.9 million people living in the country. I’ll save you the long division: that works out at 0.5 percent of the population. Of those 25,200 cases, 23,200 are listed as recovered.
My heart goes out to the loved ones of all of the people who passed away. How cruel is it to not only lose a family member, but also not be able to properly mourn that loss? Not being able to gather together to comfort each other and remember a loved one is heartbreakingly sad. That is the human element that my number crunching can’t help with.
If you will permit me though, I’m going to come back to my numbers and saddle up a high horse while I’m at it. Covid-19 is a contagious disease, we all know that by now. What of non-communicable diseases? The illnesses we inflict upon ourselves. What are the numbers for those? And will we all make as much effort to prevent them now that we are used to social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks?
Almost 10,000 people in Ireland die every year due to heart disease. That’s more than five times the total number of deaths due to Covid-19, though those Covid deaths took place in a three-month period.
Smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD (non-lifestyle causes include genetic disorders like Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency). Around 110,000 people in Ireland have been diagnosed with COPD, although the actual number thought to be closer to 200,000. So somewhere between four and eight times as many people in Ireland currently have COPD than have ever had Covid-19.
A Healthy Ireland survey found that 850,000 adults over the age of 40 either have, or are at risk of developing, Type 2 diabetes and that 60 percent of adults are either overweight or obese.
With the whole population having made such a concerted effort to protect themselves from a disease so far has left 99.5 percent of the population unaffected, one wonders whether a bit more effort could be made elsewhere. Unfortunately, the often-lifestyle related illnesses listed above are complex, and prevention isn’t as simple as washing your hands, but small changes can make big differences.
It seems most of us did more exercise during the lockdown, if any of those changes can be maintained, we have all lowered our risk. It’s important to note that while there are guidelines recommending a certain amount, anything is better than nothing, and it’s unlikely any of us are doing too much. I would venture to suggest that all this talk of respiratory disease has at least slowed smokers down and hopefully encouraged a few to quit.
If social media is to be believed everyone has been baking and cooking from scratch for most of the lockdown period. Whole foods are healthier and contain less ‘empty’ calories than processed food, lowering obesity and diabetes risk. These are simple suggestions for complex problems, but when the alternative is long-term health issues and medication, surely they are worth trying.
We’ve been washing, distancing and sanitising as instructed and kept our numbers down. Let’s keep walking, running and cooking to see if we can lower a few other numbers. Then Freddie can tell us ‘We are the champions’.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at