The first wave of the coronavirus caught us all unawares. It was a strange experience and just when we thought we were past it and life began resuming its normal rhythm, the experts started warning us about a second Covid-19 wave expected to coincide with the flu season this fall.
Coronavirus may be here to stay for a while, but the good news is that this time we can be better prepared for it. In the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, following hygiene precautions and nurturing our immune system is our only defense against the pandemic.
And with fall knocking on the door and holiday season just around the corner, now is the perfect time to support your immunity by making healthy choices and simple lifestyle changes.
COVID-19 and Immunity
We need a balanced immune response to ward off disease-causing germs and remain healthy in the long run. With coronavirus, immunity is doubly important. According to the WHO, people with weak or compromised immune systems fall into the coronavirus high-risk category.
Our immunity is also called the ‘natural defense system’. The immune system is a remarkable network of units (including white blood cells, antibodies & various organs) that work in harmony to protect the body against disease-causing agents like bacteria, viruses, and other germs.
Since the immune system is a complete ‘system’ and not a single organ, it cannot be boosted - but it can be supported to enhance our immune function and improve our body’s ability to fight infectious diseases.
The coronavirus is not an exception to this rule. While a healthy immune system is not a guarantee that you won’t get infected, it can reduce the severity of your symptoms and help your body recover faster.
There is also some evidence that individuals with robust immune function develop lasting immunity to COVID-19 once they recover from it.
5 Simple Ways to Optimise the Immune System
The coronavirus is a novel virus - we have not encountered this virus before and that is why it is going to take some time to find a cure.
Right now, there are no medicines or immunity boosters that can prevent you from getting the virus. That is exactly why you need to focus on your health and strengthen your body’s natural defense system. The good news is there are ways to do that.
Supporting your immune system is possible. A combination of a healthy diet, exercise, and adequate sleep can do wonders for your immune function. Here are 5 simple steps you can take to naturally support and strengthen your immune system:
- Exercise regularly
Exercising regularly is one sure-shot way of improving your immune response and staying healthy. Being active is good for both the mind and the body.
Working out regularly activates the immune system and causes antibodies to circulate more rapidly throughout the body. It also lowers stress and your chances of getting sick.
There is some evidence that exercising regularly (at least 5 days a week) supports the immune system and bolsters the body’s ability to fight viruses that cause respiratory infections.
However, excess of everything is bad - and this proverb holds for exercise as well. While exercising in moderation can be wonderful for your immune system, exercising too much can stress out your body and adversely affect its ability to fight infections.
Health experts recommend that you get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Here are some ways to get it:
- Stay Mobile! - Staying active is vital for your immune function. According to the guidelines issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), you should get at least 150 - 300 minutes of moderate physical activity. Take out 5, 10, or 20 minutes of your time to enjoy a light aerobics session or fit exercise into your Pomodoro breaks!
- Explore the Outdoors - Take a leisurely walk through the park or a quick jog through the neighborhood to calm your mind and body. Open spaces are not only good for destressing, but they also boost your vitamin D levels. Make sure you’re staying at least 6 ft away from others and you wash your hands when you get back.
- Indoor Exercises - Staying in doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to get adequate exercise. Take stock of your space and pick up on an activity of your interest that you can carry out. Skip rope, stretch, or simply play some music and walk briskly through your living space to meet your daily exercise quota.
- Muscle Strength Training - HHS also recommends that you squeeze in at least 2 sessions of muscle training per week. Muscle strength exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups can fortify the muscle tissue and improve overall health. Begin with small 5-minute sessions and guided workouts.
- Yoga and Stretching - Basic yoga sessions can help you tone your muscles, strengthen your body, and maintain a balanced metabolism. Similarly, taking stretching breaks throughout your workday can help you destress and reduce muscle soreness. Follow these sessions with up deep breathing exercises and meditation to cultivate mindfulness.
- Watch What You Eat
What you are putting in your body to nourish it is of key importance. According to health experts, almost 80 % of the immune system is linked to our gut. A healthy gut offers more resistance against invading germs. Besides, some foods are essential for producing a healthy immune response.
Include the following items in your diet to optimize your immune system:
- Leafy veggies and fruits - Fruits and vegetables are a reliable source of energy but eating them has a wide range of benefits. Leafy greens contain essential minerals like zinc and citrus fruits are rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals that promote immune health.
- Lots of protein-rich foods - Including a generous share of proteins to your diet can repair and strengthen your body. Protein-rich foods like fish, lean beef, turkey, chicken, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and soy-based foods can also improve your ability to combat bacterial and viral infections.
- Healthy fats - Make sure you are including foods that include friendly fats like Omega 3 and 6 fats. Omega fats are essential fats that promote good health. Rich sources include fish, walnuts, black seeds, chia seeds, and virgin olive oil.
- Plenty of probiotics - Probiotics improve gut health, counter inflammation, and support the good bacteria in our digestive tract. Foods like yogurt, kefir, garlic, onion, and raw honey are natural sources of probiotics.
- Antioxidants - Antioxidants are great for overall immune function. Cranberries, blueberries, apples, spinach, tea, black seed oil, carrots, beets, and mushrooms are some of the rich sources of antioxidants.
Focusing on including these foods in your diet will help you combat cravings and move away from unhealthy snacks and junk food. Try not to skip any meals and regularize your meal timings. You can even combine these ingredients in salads, dips, and a variety of healthy homemade snacks.
These are stressful times so this one is especially important. Stress and anxiety can impair immune function by overburdening our bodies and fatiguing them. Studies show that people who are stressed out are twice more likely to fall prey to viral infections.
This could be because stress hormones suppress our immune response and increase inflammation in our bodies. People living in stress are also often unable to pay attention to healthy lifestyle habits like eating well and getting enough sleep. That, in turn, keeps the body from mounting a strong immune response in the face of external threats.
Stressful situations can occur at any time and are often beyond our control. What you can do is create strategies to manage your stress in a better manner. Cultivate self-awareness through stress-busting exercises like:
- Deep relaxation techniques
- Guided imagery
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Repetitive prayer/chanting
- Any hobbies that help you relax like creating art, playing music, knitting
- Supplement Your Health
We need certain essential nutrients, compounds, and minerals to optimize our immune health. And while supplements are not a replacement for food, they can be taken alongside (in moderation) meals to promote overall health and well-being. Supplements are also a convenient option for people who have some nutrients lacking in their food.
Here are some of the supplements that can help us keep our warrior cells healthy and fortify our immune system:
- Vitamin D - Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is known for improving bone health and the vital role it plays in our immune system. Vitamin D is needed for the production of antibodies, special proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. There is some evidence that vitamin D supplements can help prevent respiratory infections.
- Black Seed Capsules - Organic black seeds are rich in hundreds of natural compounds that support healthy immune function. Black seed capsules are a very convenient way to add plant-based antioxidants and polyphenols to your diet. Studies show that polyphenols are needed by the body to initiate an immune response and combat pathogens.
- Vitamin C - Vitamin C is a powerful supplement with antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It is said to be the perfect supplement for colds and other infections caused by viruses and bacteria. Vitamin C helps by shortening the duration of the infection and reducing the severity of its symptoms.
- Turmeric - A healthful spice that is also widely used in traditional medicine in many parts of the world. Turmeric is packed with a compound called curcumin that lowers inflammation and has antioxidant-like properties. Use a combination of turmeric black seed capsules for better results.
- Zinc - Zinc is an essential mineral that keeps our immunity strong and aids healing. It is often used to shorten the span of or decrease the severity of viral infections like a common cold.
- A Good Night’s Sleep
Sleeping heals the body and rejuvenates it - but did you know a study found that people who got less than six hours of sleep were at least four times more likely to fall prey to the common cold than people who slept a full six hours?
That happens because when we do not sleep, the body becomes fatigued and releases stress hormones to keep us awake and alert. Unfortunately, stress hormones also interfere with the immune system, making us more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections.
Establishing a sleeping routine is vital if you want to strengthen your immunity. The CDC recommends that adults get a full 7 hours of sleep.
The coronavirus spreads from person to person. That is why following social distancing guidelines is important. Stay at least 6 m away from others, avoid going to crowded places, and wash your hands to stay safe. Read WHO guidelines for more information.