These are incredibly scary times. I thought it would be useful to write a post about ways to boost the immune system while we all shelter in place. I can’t guarantee this will help you avoid contracting COVID-19, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. In this article I discuss exercising, diet, the importance of getting a good night's sleep, ways to reduce stress, ways to keep your mind active, ways to give back to your community and the effects of aging on our immune system.
Engage in Physical Activity
There are many reasons to go outside and get some exercise:
1. Improves the immune and metabolic systems
2. Increases the production of antibodies and T-cells (immune cells) which makes them circulate more rapidly
3. Helps expel toxins which can increase your metabolism and make your cells work more efficiently
4. Makes you sweat which raises your body temperature. This helps kill pathogens.
5. Soaks up some much needed vitamin D which may increase your resistance to COVID19, so make sure you get outdoors when the sun is shining
6. Lowers your stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol
7. Lifts your mood and helps you maintain good mental health. Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside. Go out into nature. Those who spend at least 2 hours per week outside were more likely to describe themselves as healthy both physically and mentally.
Please note: Many cities have enacted mask ordinances. It is especially important to wear one when you are exercising outside. It protects us all from each other, even if you do not have symptoms. Many people are asymptomatic and are unaware that they have the virus. There are many examples online on ways to make your own masks.
In a recent study, exercising a minimum of 5 days a week reduced the risk of contracting an upper respiratory infection by half when compared with those who are sedentary. Exercise also reduced the severity of symptoms by 32% to 41% depending on one’s fitness level.
You know what they say….that the second brain is in the gut. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy immune system is to eat a healthy diet. It is always better to eat a healthy diet than to load up on a bunch of supplements.
1. Fruits and Vegetables
This should include a “rainbow” of colors.
- Orange foods such as oranges and tangerines, carrots, papayas, mangoes, squash, sweet potato and pumpkin
- Red foods such as beets, cherries, tart cherry juice, cranberries, tomatoes, raspberries, pomegranates, red cabbage and red onion
- Blue foods such as blueberries
- Yellow foods such as lemons, corn, turnips, pears and pineapple
- Green foods such as leafy green vegetables, spinach, kale and Swiss chard
Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts
Peas, avocados, asparagus, fresh herbs, kiwis and green apples
2. Fermented Foods
Sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, bok choy, kimchi and kombucha function as probiotics that help to maintain the good bacteria in your gastric system
3. Whole Grains and Whole Milk Products
4. Fish with Omega 3 and 6
Salmon, tuna, kippers, anchovies, mackerel and sardines
5. Limit your red meat intake, avoid processed foods, sugar and fried foods.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation is to lower your salt intake to less than 5 grams a day.
There is much controversy as to whether or not taking supplements and vitamins can appreciably strengthen your immune system. Some say yes while others say no. However, everyone seems to agree that the majority of us are deficient in vitamin D and a daily supplement is highly recommended.
If you have been sleep deprived or have insomnia, you know how much it affects your ability to fight off infection. Not getting enough sleep causes an increase in the production of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These stress hormones not only impact your immune system but they also keep you awake.
The quality of your sleep as well as the number of hours that you sleep are crucial to supporting your immune system. The recommended number of hours for adults is as follows:
- 7-9 hours for those 18-64
- 7-8 hours for those 65 and up
I know it is easier said than done to reduce our stress levels during the pandemic, especially if you are an essential worker or one of your family members is an essential worker. Ways to reduce stress include:
- Aerobic Exercise
- Meditation and Mindfulness
- Guided Imagery
- Yoga, Stretching and Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Weight and Strength Training
- Doing Things You Love such as cooking, playing an instrument, art projects and listening to music
- Spending Time with your Pet
Keep Your Mind Active
- Learn a new language
- Play along with Jeopardy
- Do crossword puzzles and word games
- Read books, medical news and research studies
- Write that book you always meant to write or start a blog or a vlog
- Develop an online course in which you have expertise
- Support charitable organizations
If you are not in a high risk group for COVID-19 and you feel comfortable being around other people, charitable organizations are desperate for volunteers, especially food banks. There are also ways to support charitable organizations from the safety of your home via technology.
Do Something Nice For Your Neighbors
Check on elderly, vulnerable neighbors to make sure they are OK. Go shopping for them if you feel comfortable doing so. At the very least, you can call them or connect with them using technology such as FaceTime, Facebook Messenger and Zoom or talk to them through the window.
I have seen dozens of videos where friends and family members “celebrate” birthdays, showers and anniversaries in cars. The honorees stand outside their house while a parade of cars with decorations, noisemakers and festive signs pass by. It is truly a wonderful gesture and doing something nice for others releases chemicals that boost your immune system.
Immunity and Aging
Unfortunately, as we age, many of our body systems do not work as efficiently as they did when we were younger. That includes a decrease in the effectiveness of the immune response. This leads to an increase in the likelihood of contracting infections, specifically respiratory diseases and cancers.
Researchers suspect the following accounts for the decreased immune response:
1. A decrease in immune cells, T-cells, as a result of age-related thymus atrophy
2. The stems cells that become immune cells in the bone marrow are less prevalent
3. Other results of aging that affect a reduction in T-cells that researchers have not yet identified
We can all get through this, but we must stay home as much as possible, wash our hands, keep at least 6 feet of distance from anybody who does not live in your home and wear masks and gloves when outside or when shopping in a grocery store, pharmacy or post office.
Stay safe, everyone!
mdlinx.com, How To Boost Your Immune System During The COVID-19 Pandemic, Liz Meszaro, April 7, 2020.
health.harvard.com, How To Boost Your Immune System, updated April 6, 2020.
healthline.com, Can Vitamin D Lower Your Risk of COVID-19? Jillian Kubala, March 26, 2020
sleepfoundation.org, How Sleep Affects Your Immunity
healthline.com, Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan and Beginner’s Guide, Kris Gunnars, July 24, 2018