As the world collectively reels from the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more important for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. First, it must be said that there is no supplement that can truly “boost” the immune system.
Think of it this way – the symptoms caused when we have a viral respiratory infection, such as fever and cough, are not actually caused by the virus itself. Rather, they are the immune responses of a healthy human body as it builds antibodies to fight off particular pathogens.
To boost one’s immune system would conceptually mean to make these responses stronger, potentially kicking them into overdrive.
What we can instead do is adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that keep the immune system functioning in perfect order. Here are five ways in which you can do that to improve your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consume a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables
A healthy diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is crucial in the maintenance of a fully functioning immune system. Research shows that vitamin C can protect us from flu-like symptoms and low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a higher risk of respiratory infection. Healthy levels of protein and zinc are also needed to maintain immune system function.
Therefore a diet containing protein and zinc-rich foods such as white meat, dairy products, eggs, leafy green vegetables, beans and nuts is beneficial. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits and vegetables like oranges, bell peppers and tomatoes. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. However, at a time when going out of the house is not possible or recommended for many of us, including foods like salmon, milk, mushrooms and tofu in our diets or taking a vitamin D supplement can help. On the other hand, it might be in our best interest to avoid saturated fats, red meat, processed foods and more than 5 grams of salt per day.
Take out some time for moderate exercise
Regular moderate exercise, such as 30 mins of jogging, cardio or strength training has been shown to improve immune system functionality. Exercise can help us control our body weight, improve our cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. It also improves the lung’s respiratory capacity and promotes healthy blood circulation. This allows antibodies and white blood cells to move freely through our bodies, thus doing a better job of detecting and attacking harmful viruses.
Get adequate sleep
There is a close link between sleep and immunity. Researchers have found a connection between poor, inadequate sleep and increased susceptibility to illness. In a study of 164 healthy individuals, it was found that those who got less than six hours of sleep at night were more likely to be infected by a cold as compared to those who were able to get sufficient restorative sleep. Insufficient or poor quality sleep can increase the risk of disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, depression and obesity. This can impair a healthy immune response. Adults are recommended to sleep for at least seven to eight hours each night.
Manage stress and take care of your mental health
Multiple studies have highlighted how significant chronic stress can impair an individual’s immune response. While short-term stress is unlikely to be harmful, chronic or long-term stress can take a toll on our health and well-being. Long-term stress can lead to inflammation and imbalances in the immune system function, interfering with our ability to fight off harmful viruses. It can also suppress immune response in children and the elderly. Practicing mindfulness, particularly by doing regular yoga and meditation can be helpful. At a time when social distancing has become the norm, it is also important to de-stress by maintaining digital contact with family and friends. Individuals may also benefit from seeing a licensed therapist.
Reduce alcohol intake
As more people were encouraged to stay at home in the United States, alcohol sales increased by 55% by the end of March. The spike reasonably alarmed health experts. Sustained intake of alcohol has been associated with a suppressed immune response by damaging immune cells. It can also make people more vulnerable to severe respiratory disorders and liver issues. It can trigger inflammation in the gut, destroying healthy gut bacteria that reduce the risk of infections. Limiting alcohol intake is particularly important for those who are at increased risk of severe COVID-19 disease, such as people above the age of 65 and individuals with disorders like diabetes and high blood pressure.
Although there is no magic pill or method to boost your immune system, there are steps you can take to boost your overall health, which in turn help your immune system function better to keep you well.
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