Well, we've been staying home (hopefully), washing hands, cleaning our houses, and practicing social distancing during this COVID-19 pandemic. It's helping, right? We're hearing that our efforts are working! The curve is flattening! Good work y'all!
However, what we also know is that until a vaccine is developed, this pesky virus will continue to be a threat. Even if/when restrictions are lifted, we will be invited to live a "new normal"--we will still need to take precautions to prevent a spike in new cases or transmitting the virus among the most vulnerable of our population. In a time when you may have felt out of control, don't give away your control of following precautions and being a part of our communal health!
In addition to following the guidelines we hear from experienced and knowledgeable health professionals, we also have the choice to boost our immune system so that we stay as healthy as possible. This applies all the time, of course, but even more crucial now. If you're like me, I've gone through a lot of emotions during this time and I've sought comfort in binge watching TV, not getting restful sleep, looking at my phone screen too much, eating not-so-healthy foods (I, like many others, have now gotten into baking bread!! I love BREAD!), and at times wallowing and just couch sitting! However, being a health professional, I know not to stay in these patterns for long as they will have a negative impact on both my physical and emotional health.
In this blog, I'm reminding myself and you, the reader, of things we can do to stay healthy! Let's commit to doing them and maybe finding someone to keep us accountable!
Regular moderate-intensity exercise offers several benefits to the immune system. A 2019 study shows that moderate exercise mobilizes immune system cells, helping the body defend itself against pathogens and cancer cell growth. Those who regularly engage in this type of exercise have fewer illnesses and less systemic inflammation. Exercise may also protect the immune system from the effects of aging.(1) Start with a simple goal. Maybe it's walking around your neighborhood every day. Maybe it's a far-reaching goal like I've done--I have a dream of walking the Camino in Europe sometime before I turn 50 (that's only two years away!!). So I've started training slowly--finding new trails and greenways in Charlotte to discover and build endurance.
Following a diet rich in antioxidants is essential to supporting your immune system. Abundant in many fruits and vegetables, antioxidants combat free radicals—chemical byproducts known to damage DNA and suppress the immune system. Try to work toward 5-6 servings of fruits and veggies a day! (2)
Choosing healthy fats (such as the omega-3 fatty acids available in oily fish, flax seed, and krill oil) over saturated fats (found in meat and dairy products) is generally recommended by health authorities. As well, it may help increase your body's production of compounds involved in regulating immunity. (3)
I've also found a great tasting gluten-free bread to make that still feeds my baking tendencies, but packs some better nutrition. Check out this gluten-free bread recipe!
Drinking plenty of water helps cells operate efficiently and allows your body to process food and eliminate waste. The general guideline is to drink half your body weight in ounces per day. If you are not there presently, build water intake gradually, not all at once!
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on immunity, according to a landmark 2004 review of 293 studies with a total of 18,941 participants. The review suggests that while short-term exposure to stressors can rev up your immune defense, prolonged stress may wear down the immune system and increase your vulnerability to illness. (4)
Addressing chronic stress is something you can take action on. To keep your stress in check, incorporate a relaxing practice like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing into your daily routine. Check out this immune boosting yoga practice MY yoga teacher offered recently!
Another healthy habit vital to preventing sickness is getting a full eight hours of sleep each night, which may help regulate immune function. Practice a good bedtime hygiene routine.
-Limit screen at least an hour before bedtime,
-Avoid caffeine,heavy meals or alcohol before bedtime,
-Establish a routine/meditation to ease you into relaxation
-Ensure your room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature
A study of over 22,000 people found that those who slept less than six hours per night or who had a sleep disorder were more likely to have colds and other respiratory infections. (5)
Keep washing those hands! And, use a moisturizer to counter the dryness all the hand washing with soap creates! Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to ward off illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Make sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds using warm water and soap before preparing food or eating, as well as after coughing, sneezing, using the bathroom, or touching public surfaces.
(1) Nieman DC, Wentz LM.The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system.J Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201–217. doi:10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
(2) Puertollano MA, Puertollano E, De cienfuegos GÁ, De pablo MA.Dietary antioxidants: immunity and host defense. Curr Top Med Chem. 2011;11(14):1752-66. doi:10.2174/156802611796235107
(3) Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Glaser R, Christian LM.Omega-3 fatty acids and stress-induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing [published correction appears in Mil Med. 2016 Sep;181(9):1165]. Mil Med. 2014;179(11 Suppl):129–133. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00167 https://doi.org/10.7205%2FMILMED-D-14-00167
(4)Segerstrom SC, Miller GE.Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601–630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
(5)Prather AA, Leung CW. Association of insufficient sleep with respiratory infection among adults in the United States.JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(6):850-2. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0787