I don’t know about you, but one of the things really helping me right now isn’t so much focusing on all of the things I can’t do, but rather think about what I can do. I’ve come to terms with the fact that all the events I had planned over the next few months are cancelled, my relationships are almost exclusively virtual and I miss short-grain rice in a way I never thought I would (seriously, will the grocery stores ever have it again?).
Like everyone else, some days flow more easily than others. But, my mental health has benefitted tremendously by convincing my brain to explore those things that make me feel like I’m being proactive. It’s a tricky time for us all in one way or another and while at least a small amount of wallowing is pretty much essential (no shame, people!), I’ve found it’s easier to keep it at bay when I have a healthier alternative to hold in my mind’s eye.
Experts are doing their best to forecast the trajectory of COVID-19, but the truth is that our actions matter so critically that every day or two requires a fresh reassessment of things. Regardless of where you place yourself on the spectrum of “this will all disappear in a week or two” to “is this the end?” there can be no denying that taking care of one’s immune health is never a bad idea. The coronavirus aside, there is a plethora of bugs we encounter every single day. Give them no reason to infiltrate, says I!
Vitamin C gets all the attention and it’s fine—she’s a sexy lady. But, there are other things worth knowing about, when it comes to how you can nourish that immune system of yours. From how you move your body to the foods you put inside it, here are some tips and tricks to let your mind mull over while you’re next waiting in line at Trader Joe’s.
How to Boost Your Immunity
It’s good to be out of breath.
We have a natural decrease in immune protection as we age, known as immunosenescence. Caused by a combination of genetics, environmental pollution and unhealthy lifestyle choices, our bodies exhibit a decline in the number of T-cells (an important type of white blood cell) as well as production of antibodies as we get older. We also see an increase in inflammation which can accelerate tissue damage. It is fairly well-documented at this point that we can benefit from both acute and chronic exercise.
During short bouts of moderate to intense exercise, our protective white blood cells become mobilized. We also see that the downstream effects of stress hormones don’t pack such a punch. So, that run that felt hideous and you swore you’d never repeat? I hate to break it to you, but it was most likely very good for you. Gentle exercise is wonderfully beneficial in lots of ways, but the vigorous stuff really comes into its own for immune health.
Sweat it out.
I realize this will be aimed at the minority here, who happen to have saunas at home, but worth knowing about for future is that saunas have been shown to boost immune activity. As well as leaving us feeling invigorating and imparting a delicious glow to the skin, scientists have found that sauna bathing can boost white blood cell counts. Interestingly, a study comparing the sauna’s effects in athletes vs non-athletes showed that the former exhibited a more significant increase. As if you needed another reason to go for that run, eh?
Lounge in the sun.
If you’re fortunate enough to be quarantining somewhere with a smidge of outdoor space (or a decent-sized window you can fling open) know that while doing wonders for your heart and soul, that dose of vitamin D is hugely beneficial to the immune system. It has been shown that vitamin D helps to modulate the immune response, protecting us from invading bugs.
Watch the salt.
The World Health Organization recommends that adults consume a maximum of 5g of salt per day. Realistically, many of us consume much more – especially diets high in processed foods. A recent study has just revealed, however, that excess salt weakens the immune system. Scientists observed a group of volunteers who consumed an additional 6g per day on top of their regular daily intake and found that after one week, the white cells extracted from the blood samples collected did far worse up against bacterial infection. It is thought that the mechanism behind this is the increase in glucocorticoids that come from excess salt consumption. The best known of the glucocorticoids is cortisone—used to treat inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s immune response kicking in, so less inflammation means less immunity.
Get more sleep.
If you’ve been offered the gift of time, try allocating at least a little of it to beauty rest. Not only will it make you look and feel better, but your immune system will thank you. Stress hormones such as cortisol released from the adrenal glands are strongly anti-inflammatory. We see circadian rhythms of cortisol release timed with waking. Provided the levels are not excessive (caused by high stress), cortisol release is essential for arousal from sleep and helping us feel alert and ready to embrace the day. It’s essential that this is balanced at night by white blood cell migration in our lymph nodes in pro-inflammatory early sleep. Interestingly, it has been shown that following a vaccine, a group of participants allowed to indulge in a good night’s sleep had a far stronger formation of antigenic memory than those who were sleep deprived.
So, while the fruit and veggies and occasional supplement will help, along with a nice cup of echinacea tea after dinner, bear in mind that some of the most potent ways of looking after your immune health are more lifestyle based. Could you force yourself to do 20 minutes of grueling exercise today? Treat yourself to shavasana in the sun afterwards, followed by a nap; go on, you deserve it!
Photo by Candice Picard on Unsplash