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How did lockdown affect our health?

We analysed the data of over 10,000 Medichecks' customers to reveal how lockdown affected our health.

In 2020, the pandemic caused us to experience some of the most significant changes to our everyday lives.

Understandably, many of us became more concerned about our health than we ever have been. These health concerns came hand in hand with lifestyle changes – some of us took advantage of the extra hour in the morning to fit in a workout, some of us took up a new hobby such as running, and many of us were pleased to have extra time in the evenings for some healthy cooking.

For many other people, the lockdown was a real battle. Some turned to unhealthier behaviours, potentially as a distraction or comfort to simply get through it. According to one report, around a third of people reported they drank more in lockdown, most frequent drinkers increased the most [1].

Experts found that 26% of Britons relied more on takeaway food [2], with some people turning to food as a source of comfort. One study by Medichecks found that a staggering 1 in 3 women reported eating more convenience food during the pandemic.

It is not surprising then that as March 2021 came along and we began to emerge out of our lockdown hibernation, many of us were not feeling quite the same as when lockdown first started.

Here at Medichecks, we were interested to see exactly how our health was affected by a year of lockdown. We analysed the data of over 10,000 Medichecks customers to reveal how our health was affected by the unusual year. We found some very surprising things…

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also known as the "sunshine vitamin", is a vitamin which our skin can make upon exposure to sunlight. We compareddata from 19,842 tests between March 2019 and February 2020, and 20,645 tests between March 2020 and February this year.

In a surprise finding, we found levels of vitamin D increased by 28 per cent year-on-year in June.

VItaminD-Lockdown

This could be a result of many things. Perhaps we enjoyed a summer of better weather. Perhaps individuals took up the NHS advice of daily supplementation, or perhaps furlough and working from home created more opportunities to be outdoors.

Dr Sam Rodgers, chief medical officer at Medichecks, said the rise in Vitamin D is steady across men and women. The data is robust and shows a clear increase to vitamin D in the summer of 2020, common across males and females.

The conclusions we can draw from this are that the shift to work from home, meaning less commuting, and furlough offered more opportunity to spend time outdoors in the sunshine than was possible in 2019.

We should also factor in the possibility that a greater number of people were heeding NHS guidance and choosing to supplement vitamin D.

Both of these are positive developments because maintaining good vitamin D levels is important for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy."

Vitamin D plays a significant role in bone and muscle health, along with having many other functions in the body, such as supporting the absorption of nutrients [4], but the UK’s sunlight is poor, and experts estimate that 1 in 5 adults in the UK do not get enough [5]. So, this finding is a positive health outcome from what was a challenging year for many.

The NHS currently recommends that everybody should take a 10ug daily supplement of vitamin D in the winter months. Some are at higher risk of a vitamin D deficiency, such as those with darker skin, and are recommended to take a daily supplement all year round.

You can measure the levels of Vitamin D in your body with a simple and at-home Vitamin D (OH) Blood Test from Medichecks. Our team of doctors will report on your results and advise you on the next steps to take if your blood levels are outside the normal range.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in our blood. There are many different types of cholesterol. If our levels of bad cholesterol outweigh the bad, it can lead to fatty plaques in our arteries and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart attack. If we compare data from before lockdown (2019-2020) and during lockdown (2020-2021) we can see that levels of ‘good’ cholesterol remained unchanged at around 1.45 mmol/L and levels of bad (non-HDL cholesterol) also remained unchanged at 3.5 mmol/L.

These findings are reassuring because despite not using gyms, and our potentially higher reliance on convenience foods, our cholesterol levels seemed relatively unimpacted by the pandemic. Our Medichecks customers are obviously a healthy bunch and can rest assured that they made the right decisions for their cardiovascular health in lockdown.

Medichecks’ Cholesterol Blood Test is a way to measure your blood cholesterol levels as well as determining your risk of heart disease based on the ratio of HDL to total cholesterol. This test is a simple finger prick test which can be done in the comfort of your own home.

CRP-HS

High sensitivity-C reactive protein (CRP-HS) is a marker of inflammation in the body. Inflammation could be caused by many different things, including injury, disease (such as a cold), or simply muscle damage resulting from a workout. Despite being in a global pandemic, where we would expect more respiratory infections, inflammation reduced for most customers who tested it during the pandemic.

If we compare to the previous year, males reduced levels of CRP-HS from 2.1 to 1.7 mg/L (a 19% decrease) and females reduced from 2.7 to 2.2 mg/L (an 18% decrease). As most of us were not mixing with others, this result could be due to fewer cases of the common cold [6]. Or perhaps it reflects lower muscle damage due to the gyms being closed. It may even reflect healthier eating during the pandemic - as a diet rich in healthy fats and fruits and vegetables support our cardiovascular health, contributing to lower levels of inflammation.

Either way, it is an exciting finding. If you were a customer that found you have successfully lowered your inflammation during the pandemic, it might be worth reflecting on what healthy changes you’ve made which could be contributing to this effect.

If you are interested to measure the levels of inflammation in your body, you can do so with our especially created Woman's Ultimate At Home Blood Testand Men's Ultimate At Home Blood Testfrom Medichecks. These tests measure many important health markers, alongside inflammation (CRP-HS), to paint the bigger picture of your health and uncover what is going on in your body. You can take these tests in the comfort of your own home and await your results in your own personal, online dashboard.

In conclusion

As we look back on what was a difficult and challenging year for many, we think it is crucial to identify some of the positive changes resulting from lockdown. Whether it was more time outdoors in the vitamin D boosting sunshine, a healthier diet, or simply more downtime. Perhaps we can even carry some of our healthier habits, routines and newfound strengths into a healthier and happier future.

References

[1] https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32284/7/IAS_alcohol_covid_2nd.pdf [2] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/food/articles-reports/2020/12/16/how-has-coronavirus-affected-britons-takeaway-buyi [3] https://www.examinerlive.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/how-eating-habits-changed-duruing-19265658 [4] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-d/ [5] https://www.heartuk.org.uk/low-cholesterol-foods/vitamin-d [6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/10/gp-england-drop-common-cold-flu-cases-coronavirus-restrictions