2020. Those four numbers are all anyone needs to say to explain the way some people’s shoulders are hunched, the wrinkles around eyes have gotten more pronounced, or why many might be carrying around some extra weight.

COVID-19 has caused personal and economic devastation that, to some extent, nearly all have experienced. It has interrupted the American educational system from kindergarten all the way through grad school, to include medical, nursing, and other allied health professional schools. And the American medical system has had to learn a new infectious disease for the first time since the AIDS epidemic.

Many professionals in the medical community have been asking what can be done to mitigate the devastation of COVID-19 before patients reach the emergency room to manage the complications. There are two major issues that are believed to have the biggest impact: obesity and stress-induced hormone imbalances. In all actuality, those two go hand in hand.

Obesity is the biggest risk factor for severe COVID-19 disease (and many other known diseases) across all age ranges. There’s good news though: obesity is a modifiable risk factor.

Does it require hard work to change? Yes. But obesity is not permanent. The amount of work that losing weight entails is often what paralyzes people into not even trying, but the gains that weight loss would bring reach far beyond just prevention of severe COVID complications.

Benefits include improved cardiac function, decreased joint stress, improved energy level, increased mobility, and more.

Stress-induced hormonal imbalances are just as detrimental to lifespan and vitality as obesity, but not nearly as obvious. The internal derangement from chronic stress can lead to increased obesity – since your body is reacting as if you’re in a famine, it retains weight.

It can also bring about a poor immune system and decreased energy and activity, as this is a body’s way of limiting caloric output in what it thinks to be a “famine” setting. All of this adds up, leading back and compounding the high risk for severe COVID-19 complications and other diseases.

Now, more than ever, is the time to take control of your health. Making conscious choices to better yourself through exercise and nutrition will pay off tenfold, adding years to your life and life to your years. Not only will you strengthen your chances of avoiding severe COVID-19 symptoms, you will also reap the benefits of a happy, healthy life.

Heather Hinshelwood, MD, FACEP is a double board-certified physician and a passionate proponent for healthy living. She is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine and currently practices at Fraum Center for Restorative Health.