In March 2020, we all bunkered down in our homes. We donned masks and began social distancing for the sake of slowing the spread of an unknown Corona-19 Virus. Loads of information spread like wildfire about a cure or a possible vaccine, but hardly anyone was talking about how we could best prepare our bodies in case we got sick. There are several measures we can be taking in order to strengthen our immune systems to better fight off infection and disease, perhaps even lowering our chances of contracting an infection first which ultimately leads to disease.
Quality is just as important as quantity of sleep. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting 10 hours per night, if your sleep quality is poor, your health is likely to suffer as well. Getting sufficient sleep increases cell-mediated immune reactions that are necessary for our body’s defense. Pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines are expressed in the brain - an organ that experiences recovery primarily through sleep. If our bodies never recover, inflammation persists. Good quality sleep is a requirement for improved immunity. This is not only necessary to prevent illness, but to also fight disease after your body has been infected. So ditch the night cap, shut off screens an hour before bed, and create a nighttime routine to prep your mind and body for meaningful rest.
This goes beyond eating an orange per day or tripling your vitamin C dose with products like Emergen-C when you’re feeling under the weather. The standard American diet (SAD) is full of sugary and processed foods. Consuming these foods can lead to inflammation in the body which can lead to confused immune defense cells. Aside from that, eating for a healthy immune system is more about what you’re not getting than what you should be avoiding. Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, and calcium are only a few micronutrients associated with a strengthened immune system. The best way to be getting these is by eating a balanced diet that consists of fresh, healthy foods that provide sufficient protein, naturally occurring fats, and are nutrient dense. You can also implement a multivitamin into your daily routine as a way of assurance. Investing in personalized and targeted nutrition coaching can help balance your lifestyle, performance, and immune boosting needs.
Get active! Exercise allows our body to properly circulate lymph and blood. With gyms closed, working from home, and/or attending school from home, 2020 has certainly challenged people’s routine(s) of regular and consistent physical activity. For those who are working from home: Get up and move for 2 min for every 30 min of seated time. This promotes healthy blood flow to your brain! (You know, the thing you need to use for work and school). Lymph helps circulate defense cells throughout the body and promotes the ridding of any foreign antigens. Last, regular workouts and breathing exercises help this circulation happen more efficiently. When we’re sedentary, those defense cells don’t make it to the places they need to be and it can delay the removal of cell damaging antigens.
A stressed mind is a stressed immune system. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between stress caused by work, or the stress caused by you being chased by a tiger. Stress is stress and the response is always the same - stress creates inflammation. Consistent, unbalanced, and unmitigated stress can lead to burn out. And, like mentioned with sleep, a burned out body is less likely to fight infection and disease as efficiently, it can damage our hormones, wreak havoc on our gut, and negatively impact our mental health. Studies support that when a person experiences both chronic stress, or a singular stressful event, their lymphocyte response (immune response)can be significantly decreased during the stressed period. Relaxation practices can be subjective, so try a variety of things until you find the ones that work for you! Utilize these as often as you can to manage those stress levels as much as possible.
Focusing on these 4 practices in no way guarantees you a 100% chance of not 1) contracting a disease or virus, or 2) falling ill to any disease or virus. We’re all human and we’re all susceptible to getting “sick” once in a while. However, the more you practice these healthy habits in your daily life, the more efficiently your body can protect and fight for itself.
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Maddock, Clementine, and Carmine M. Pariante. "How does stress affect you? An overview of stress, immunity, depression and disease." Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences 10.3 (2001): 153-162.