In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to support your immune system. This includes supporting both your physical and mental health. These are interesting times – we all process and handle situations like this differently. Some have a sense of calm, however others are worried about what the future holds. What is inspiring is hearing how people are implementing new skills and innovations into their personal and professional lives to thrive in our ‘new normal’. I know I have certainly upped my FaceTime coffee chats with friends and family. However, bottom line – we can’t control the pandemic. But we can control our response to it. Limiting our physical proximity with others certainly helps keep away germs, but we also need to optimize our immune system through how we live our life. That’s what I would like to talk about with you today. What lifestyle habits, outside of washing your hands, can you impart that will support your immunity?
Here is my top 10 list, in no particular order:
- Prioritize 7-8 hours of sleep each night – You produce immune boosting substances while you sleep that help us fight off infection, and is why your body craves more sleep when you are sick. In fact, your immunity is strongest at night, so supporting it with the right quantity and quality of sleep matters. Strive to get a consistent 7-8 hour sleep window between 10 pm – 8 am to align best with your circadian rhythm. Keep your bedroom as cool and dark as possible for the best Z’s.
- Eat a colorful, whole foods, organic diet – By increasing the phytonutrients and antioxidants found in plants via the color of the rainbow, while decreasing chemicals and oxidants found in non-organic and processed foods, you strengthen your immune system’s defenses. Strive for more colorful vegetables and fruits, high quality proteins, and healthy fats. Shop the store perimeter and ditch the inner aisles of processed snacks and treats.
- Get outdoors – Exposure to nature switches on your parasympathetic system or the ‘rest and digest’ mode, which supports your immune system. Not only do you get fresh air and vitamin D producing sunlight, but there are other active ingredients found outdoors like phytoncides and mycobacterium that help boost your immunity. Staying cooped up indoors may lead to feeling restless, which switches on your stress response. This breaks down your immunity. So get outside as often as you can – take walks in the forest, regional parks, around a local lake, or even around your neighborhood if that’s all you have access to.
- Consider Intermittent fasting – I bet you are a bit surprised by this tip. Interestingly enough, three newly published studies researched this and found not all fasting protocols are equal in regards to their immune boosting potential. In sum, it may be beneficial to restrict your daily eating window to 8 or 10 hours (i.e breakfast at 10 am and dinner no later than 6-8 pm) but not to completely fast from food longer than 24 hours. When your body is fasting, it can focus on processes like autophagy where the body can clean out the damaged cells and regenerate newer, healthier cells but done too long can jeopardize immunity.
- Implement a daily mindfulness practice – Fears around the health risks and financial drains that can come with a pandemic like COVID-19 activates the stress response, which suppresses your immune system and increases your risk for illness. Just the opposite of what you want right now. Your mind is much stronger than your physical body and although you can’t change or control this situation, you can change how you respond to it and that requires mental training. Practices like meditation, deep breathing, and gratitude journaling can help – they just need to be intentional and daily to make a positive, lasting impact on your health. Your attitude is everything. Let’s work on retraining it.
- Exercise – Moving your body, purposefully, is an immune booster. Aim for moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes most days of the week PLUS your outdoor activity. What do you do if you don’t have equipment at home and your gym closed? You have your body to use as resistance. Plus, there are many free online resources to tap into for guidance on a full-body resistance routine.
- Anti-viral foods – Here’s another tip you may not have considered. L-Lysine is an essential amino acid, which means your body can’t make it and therefore you need to get it through your diet. This amino acid has been shown to support the immune system with anti-viral properties. Where do you find it? In animal products like meat, chicken, eggs, fish, and dairy. L-Arginine, on the other hand, is an amino acid that has a role in replication of viruses and progression of viral infections. It is found primarily in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and chocolate. It’s a balancing act. Bottom line is, for anti-viral support, you will want to include high-quality animal products into your diet. Not ideal to go vegan right now.
- Stay hydrated – Water is essential to flush your body of toxins. And in my experience, most people do better at staying hydrated when they are going to an office, or when they simply have a regular routine. And this is not the case for so many of us right now. Also keep in mind that while alcohol consumption is on the rise in many homes, this further dehydrates you, as well as diminishes the good bacteria in your gut. Double whammy.
- Stay connected – Research is clear! Loneliness and social isolation are detrimental to your health, physically and mentally. There is a field of research called social genomics that studies why and how different social factors and processes affect the genome, meaning how you socialize (or not) can turn on or off the expression of your genes and therefore your personal risk of getting a chronic disease that runs in your family. Easier said than done these days with the nation’s recommendation to stay home, away from others. This is where we need to be more innovative. If you have a smart phone, do more FaceTime calls with loved ones. Or just call and talk with them. Send letters – when’s the last time you did that? I know it’s been years since I have.
- Supplement as needed – There are a few supplements that
have been shown to support the immune system.
You can get many of these from a diverse, whole foods diet along with a
general multivitamin/mineral, however depending on your age and health status,
you may benefit from a little extra.
Personalization is key. If you
are on medications, there may be drug/nutrient interactions. What do your labs show? If you would like some guidance, we encourage
you to reach out for a personal assessment and supplement recommendation
protocol. We do utilize an online
formulary that provides high-quality pharmaceutical grade products at a 25%
- Vitamin C – a natural antioxidant that helps reduce the inflammatory response
- Zinc – crucial for maintaining healthy immune system, especially anti-viral immunity
- Vitamin D – supports immunity via their defense against infection by viruses and bacteria
- Vitamin A – supports immunity to viral, bacterial, and protozoan infections
- Melatonin – immune modulating & anti-inflammatory benefits against viruses
- Selenium – protects against viral infections and mutations
During this pandemic time, we are strongly encouraged to stay at home and away from others. What a perfect time to experiment with these lifestyle habits that strengthen your immunity to find the ones you enjoy and feel benefit from AND include them into your long-term plan for vibrant living. Enjoy!