The thought of impending sickness has a lot of people on edge. It brings on anxiety, and when you’re anxious, you want to do something to relieve it. That’s why you see stories of people stockpiling toilet paper, and disinfecting wipes, and stealing face masks. (None of those things are going to help them stay healthy by the way).
Like you, I can’t avoid seeing and hearing all the stories about how to wash hands, avoid sick people, and use hand sanitizer to protect yourself and your family from coming down with COVID-19.
As a health and wellness expert I agree that's good advice, but I also know they're missing a bigger part of the story.
Why is no one talking about what you can do to build up your immune system from the inside?
Healing is an inside job. That's an uninspiring message, so it doesn't make the headlines. Your health comes from the inside. It always has, and it always will. It’s human nature to want a quick fix and to try to make someone else responsible for your health, but in the end, you’re the only one who can make yourself healthy or sick.
Here’s a short summary of scientifically proven ways to strengthen your immune system.
The science behind boosting your immune system isn’t complicated. These are common sense habits that science and the medical community stand behind.
Empowering your health by building it up from the inside will do more to protect you and your family than hoarding toilet paper and face masks.
I’ll share with you here what science has to say about strengthening your immune system:
Get regular moderate* exercise.
*Moderate exercise strengthens your immune response while excessive exercise weakens it.
Regular, moderate exercise decreases the inflammatory response and increases immune regulation.
Exercise helps move and flush pathogens out of your airways, and it causes antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more rapidly and to the farthest reaches of your vascular system.
Exercise reduces the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol inhibits your immune system.
The temporary increase of body temperature with exercise may weaken or kill certain bacteria or viruses (similar to your body’s fever response).
Take a 30 minute brisk walk or bicycle ride, play a sports game, work in your yard, do yoga or pilates.
Get 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. Bonus if you do it outdoors.
If your workouts are extreme, scale back. Remind yourself moderate exercise builds up and restores the body while extreme exercise wears it down.
Nurture your diet and the gut microbiome.
The quality of your food will determine the quality of your health, and the typical American diet is not helping you.
Nutrition is linked to your immune system directly by supplying the building blocks your body needs to function at peak performance, and indirectly by influencing your gut microbiome.
Your gut microbiome is responsible for communication between your brain and your immune system.
The gut microbiome also influences how much cortisol you produce. As mentioned above, too much cortisol weakens the immune response.
The health of your gut biome influences the health of your intestinal wall, and that wall is a physical first line of defense against disease.The typical American diet is notoriously processed. It’s full of calories, but short on nutrition. Micro deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, or vitamins A, B6 or E are all linked to a weakened immune system.
Drink an extra 2 glasses of water per day (on top of what you already drink).
Eat one more fruit and one more vegetable per day.
Stop eating fried food, foods with added sugars, and replace white grains with whole grains.
Eliminate all sweetened drinks (naturally or artificially sweetened).
Eat fewer restaurant and fast food meals and more homemade meals.
Eat a handful of nuts instead of a handful of chips.
Have healthy vitamin D levels.
You can only know your vitamin D levels from a blood test, but it’s easy to get, and your doctor should comply if asked. Low vitamin D is more common than you think, and unless severe and chronic, it doesn’t give many symptoms.
Low vitamin D results in poor regulation of your adaptive immune system. That’s the part of the immune system that has a memory, and that’s the theory behind vaccines, and why you get immunity from chicken pox once you’ve had them.
Low vitamin D also increases autoimmune function, and that leads to a multitude of autoimmune diseases.
Spend 10–15 minutes in direct sun every other day with major areas of skin exposed.
Let your eyes be exposed occasionally to indirect sun by taking off your glasses.
Eat more fish, eggs, and mushrooms.
If necessary, take a vitamin D supplement after consulting with your health expert.
Meditate, even briefly.
Meditation is linked to decreased inflammation. That’s good because inflammation decreases immune function.
Meditation increases immune helper cells called CD-4 cells. CD-4 cells (mentioned above as well) act as a communicator to alert the system that pathogens are present.
Meditate for even 5 minutes a day. There’s more benefit to daily short meditation than occasional hour long meditation.
Keep it simple. Sit quietly and comfortably and play some gentle background music or white noise.
Get enough sleep.
Science says 7–8 hours per night is needed for optimal health.
Deficient sleep not only increases the chances of you getting sick, it also prolongs your recovery.
Your body produces and releases cytokines when you sleep. Cytokines are proteins that target inflammation.
Sleep also affects your immune system indirectly via your gut microbiome (and your gut microbiome affects your sleep).
Make sleep a priority. You deserve it.
Follow the other tips in this post and you’ll sleep better.
Cut back on alcohol.
Drinking alcohol changes how your gut microbiome interacts with your immune system. The ultimate result is fewer macrophages (your 1st line defense cells that “eat” pathogens), T cells (antibodies), and B cells (white blood cells that secrete cytokines).
Alcohol disrupts your intestinal barrier.
Alcohol even reduces the function of your immune cells in your lungs, the tissue that’s most affected by COVID-19.
I guess I’m stating the obvious, but simply drink fewer alcoholic drinks of any sort. The more you drink, the more your immune system is adversely affected.
Cigarette smoke suppresses the immune system leaving smokers to heal more slowly than non smokers.
Smoking has an adverse effect on the antioxidants (such as vitamin C) that circulate through your body.
Smoking of any sort is a direct irritant to respiratory tissues.Tips:
Reducing or stopping all smoking is ideal. At the least, choose forms of delivery that are less irritating to the lungs.
Don't panic, be healthy.
You were born to be healthy. Health is there for you when you stop covering it up with unhealthy life habits.Boost your health. I promise you’ll feel more strong and energized and less anxious.
[ *Contributing Editor Credit: Dr. Christine Bradstreet ]