Lifestyle Can Foster Your Strongest Immune System
BY GRETCHEN HEIMSOTH
Times are crazy! I think we all are looking for things we can do to feel empowered right now. I have hope we are now starting to move in a slow, but forward momentum surrounding the coronavirus. But the threat of it makes one want to react. “What can I do to protect myself?” We think about the immune system. “Can I boost it?” the thought process can go. Yet when it comes to the immune system, there isn’t any magic boosting pill, supplement, or superfood.
Ramping up the immune system would lead to the unpleasant symptoms we experience with colds. Trying to get a fast fix on the immune system is not the best way to think about it. Don’t get me wrong; I believe wholeheartedly in the healing power of foods and herbs, even so, immune nutritional benefits are most strongly reaped over time.
Giving your body what it needs to build healthy cells. Research on vitamin C, perhaps most specifically, from food sources, showed protective benefits from certain cancers, the common cold, and several eye issues. Vitamin D is immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory, crucial for activating several immune responses. Many, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, are deficient. These two vitamins may be worth considering when it comes to wanting to build your most robust immune system. The first from food sources. The second from the sun and perhaps supplementation, all age groups. In the short term, there are habits you want to focus on reducing that will stop lowering your immune system. Building the immune system is about creating a healthy body, a lifestyle.
A few habits to consider limiting if you want to build and protect your immune system are limiting long periods of sitting and being sedentary, smoking, excess alcohol, a high sugar diet, poor sleep, and poor stress management. Exercise contributes to the healthy movement of blood cells, which help to keep the immune cells moving so they can better do their job. Walking, jogging, jumping jacks if you can. Aim for 20 minutes, grow from there. Smoking inflames the lungs, and the cardiovascular system lowers immune function. Alcohol causes several harmful by-products that also inflame and lower immune function. Inadequate sleep will keep you from getting the restorative rest your body needs to have to do the deep repair. Sugar, caffeine, and lack of exercise can make sleep difficult. Cut screens, all blue light at least one hour before bed.
Stress loads are high right now. Uncertainty, health worries, and financial stress are all in the mix together. Many of us have been forced into job changes, homeschooling, reduced hours, loss of income…Quarantine brings social isolation. It affects our senses of autonomy, competency, and control. I want to encourage anyone reading this to be gentle to yourself during this time. All the feelings surrounding this process are valid. Reducing stress won’t be a perfect process right now. And that’s ok. It doesn’t have to be. Functioning for prolonged periods under high stress can make the body start to become cortisol dependent and then resistant. It is opening the inflammation floodgates, ultimately leading to a weakened, tired immune system that can’t operate at its best to protect you. It’s essential to do what you can right now and what works for you.
Maybe right now, you can’t get mentally still at all or have never embarked on the practice. Try a guided meditation. If that’s not the right fit, try yoga. It can ground you back in the moment. The focused breath helps to break you out of fight or flight. The goal right now is to try to give your nervous system as many breaks as possible right now. Get outside in nature, reach out to friends and family outside of social media. Take advantage of video calling. The whole family can utilize these practices. Children are feeling what is going on. Their world has flipped upside down. They can also use “brain breaks”- meditation, movement in nature. Video calling with friends and family. And lots of understanding, pausing and hugs.
Vitamin C Rich Fruits and Vegetables, Fiber, Protein
Fill your plate with the rainbow, minimally processed, seasonal local foods. Avocado and olive oil. Legumes such as lentils. Moderate consumption of dairy. Less frequency of red meat and in smaller portions. A Mediterranean style diet offers the most immune building, anti-inflammatory benefits. Breathe, focus on what you can reach that you are grateful for. These practices, hand washing, and social distancing are the best ways to stay healthy right now.