Take easing of COVID restrictions at your own pace

By June Shannon Coronavirus News   |   9th Feb 2022

Chair of the Irish Heart Foundation Prof Emer Shelley, on the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.

With the return to the office and lifting of the majority of COVID-19 restrictions, you could be forgiven for thinking that the pandemic that has shaped our lives over the past two years is finally over. While the immediate emergency has passed and this is good news, the pandemic is far from over, and people living with heart disease and stroke may still feel uneasy about the wider reopening of society.

Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme said it best when speaking at the Irish Times Winter Nights online festival last month. As quoted in the paper, Dr Ryan said, “We need to be really kind to each other in the next few weeks and recognise that not everyone in Ireland will be whooping with joy [at the lifting of restrictions],”

“For some people, re-engaging will be a really hard process. There are the wounds of COVID but there are also the wounds of isolation, anxiety, and mental health difficulties. We need to look out for people in general and particularly for people who are struggling,” Dr Ryan added.

“If you haven’t been to see your GP recently, now would be a good time to make that appointment to have your blood pressure checked,"

Prof Emer Shelley, Chair, The Irish Heart Foundation

Prof Emer Shelley, Chair of the Irish Heart Foundation and former Dean of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine at the RCPI, agreed with Dr Ryan, advising people living with heart disease and stroke to take the changes at their own pace and to continue to assess their own individual risk.

She also advised that now was a good time to visit the GP if people have been putting it off due to fears around Covid-19.

According to Prof Shelley, general practice has been open right through the pandemic but GPs have expressed concern that people have not been attending as much as usual.

“If you haven’t been to see your GP recently, now would be a good time to make that appointment to have your blood pressure checked, medication reviewed, and then if you have any concerns or worries, you could talk to the GP about those,” she said.

While Prof Shelley acknowledged that not everyone living with heart disease and stroke has been staying at home for the past two years there may be some who have, and she encouraged them to try to get out for a walk but to start gently and build up slowly.

“Now’s the time to get out but to do it in a very slow way,” Prof Shelley said.

“Now's the time to get out but to do it in a very slow way,”

Prof Emer Shelley, Chair , The Irish Heart Foundation

She explained that people may feel anxious or be suffering from loss of muscle or dis-improved balance as a result of staying at home and therefore it was important that they build up their strength very gradually and this, in turn, would also help their balance.

“Now’s the time to get out but to do it in a very slow way.”

“If they’ve been sitting down a lot, then their muscles are weak and their sense of balance may also not be as good as it was two years ago.”

Prof Shelley also suggested that if people were anxious about increased socialising, they could maybe arrange to meet a friend for coffee mid-morning or in the afternoon when cafes and restaurants tend to be quieter, or to simply start by saying hello to someone on your walk.

Apart from assessing your individual risk and taking the reopening of society at your own pace, Prof Shelley said it was also important that people received their Covid-19 booster vaccine.

Finally, now that we can travel again she said that for those with “itchy feet” a staycation would be a good place to start.  However, she added that if people living with heart disease or stroke wished to go abroad, it was important to avoid months when temperatures are very high and to ensure there is a hospital or clinic nearby just in case they need care abroad.

So, the main message is to try to get out for a walk or to meet friends but do it at all your own pace.

If you have any questions or concerns more information is available on www.hse.ie or you can call the Irish Heart Foundation Nurse Support Line on 01 668 5001 (Monday to Friday, 9am–1pm)


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