Take Action: Immune Boosting
With the constant updates about the spread of COVID-19, it can feel overwhelming and difficult to stay on top of the latest health advisories and instructions. If you're like me, you're probably trying to cull through the information to stay informed while also staying grounded with a sensible and appropriate course of action. While best hygiene practices are “Defense Number One”, beyond that, what else can we do to protect ourselves, our families, our co-workers and our communities? So, here is something we can do right now, no matter what today's news brings: According to health experts, we can positively impact our body’s response to virus exposure by keeping our immune systems in tip-top shape. The immune system is our body’s surveillance system, working 24/7 to identify and eliminate the viruses and bacteria that might make us sick. One of the most complex systems in the body, the immune system is made up of various organs, cells and proteins; including the skin, corneas of the eyes, the mucosa of the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and lymphatic system. A poor diet, chronic stress and lack of sleep can affect the immune system. In the spirit of taking action over feeling helpless, here are 10 immune-boosting strategies that you can implement today:
1. Get a flu vaccination The flu virus can affect anyone, even the fit and healthy, so it is important to get an annual flu vaccination to protect yourself and also to stop the spread of the disease. This helps to promote herd immunity. If enough people are vaccinated, they can help protect those unable to be vaccinated such as those who are immunocompromised or young infants under 6 months of age.
2. Wash your hands Most people don’t wash their hands correctly, especially the areas around their fingernails, between fingers and the backs of their hands. Viruses can survive for some time outside the human body, which means you can get sick from shaking a sick person’s hand or touching high traffic surfaces like a doorknob or fridge door and then touching your face. Hand washing is one of the best strategies you can use to avoid getting sick. It should take you at least 20 seconds to wash your hands. Make sure to use warm water and soap and then dry your hands thoroughly. When it comes to meet-and-greets, consider elbow touches, bows or hands-to-heart as a way to acknowledge one another.
3. Humidify Having moisture in the air makes it harder for viruses to stay airborne. Using a humidifier in your bedroom at night can help keep your nasal passages hydrated at home, making them more resilient in drier environments (think bigger buildings that use heating and cooling systems.) Saline irrigation solution (in Neti Pots or stand-alone saline sprays) can also help to keep your nasal passages hydrated. If you're interested, Neti Pots are sold everywhere and there are numerous youtube videos that demonstrate how to use them.
4. Get plenty of sleep Not getting enough sleep as well as poor quality sleep can have an effect on your immune system. Cytokines are proteins that are released during sleep and they play an important role in your body’s ability to fight infections. Aim to get 8 hours of quality sleep a night and brush up on what makes for a good night's sleep here.
Drinking lots of water helps flush toxins from the body and keeps mucus in the respiratory tract thin. If you have a cold, mucus increases to fight the infection and keeping the mucus thin can make it easier for it to be expelled from the body either through coughing or a runny nose. Pay attention to dry skin, eyes or lips. These are often signals that your body needs more fluids.
6. Commit to good nutrition
A healthy immune system thrives on a diet of whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. An important part of your immune system is in your digestive tract so in addition to whole foods, include some probiotics like yogurt or kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kombucha. Or take a probiotic supplement.
7. Exercise regularly
Regular exercise is good for both your immune system and your mental well-being. Exercise boosts blood flow, which circulates white blood cells throughout the body. White blood cells are the first line of defense in the body’s immune system. They travel through the blood and tissues looking for foreign invaders like parasites, viruses and bacteria.
8. Spend time outdoors
Spending the majority of our time inside buildings with limited fresh air circulation can promote the spread of viruses. Take breaks to go outside, get some fresh air and replenish your store of Vitamin D from sunshine. In fact, this is a great time to combine exercise with spending time outdoors.
9. Manage your stress
There is a wealth of research that links stress with reduced immune system function. Therefore, managing stress - especially long-term stress - is an important component of self-care that may help our bodies fight germs.
10. Reduce or avoid alcohol & nicotine use
Nicotine can depress your immune system by suppressing the antibodies created by your body to fight cold and flu viruses. Alcohol dehydrates the body and creates an attractive environment for viruses. Now is the time to limit both in the name of boosting your body’s immune system.
Remember that while the onslaught of news can create feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, do not despair. Instead, remember that there are simple actions we can take to care for ourselves and therefore our community at large.
*The CDC is the authority on information regarding the coronavirus. There are many helpful resources available on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/COVID19 that can help you and your family feel more informed and prepared.
Wash you hands, cover your mouth & keep your chin up!
*I love this photo so much. It's impossible not to smile when you look at it. I got it from Blue Zones' instagram feed. If you're not familiar with them, definitely check them out! https://www.instagram.com/bluezones/