From the very beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, you have heard about ways to reduce exposure and take care of yourself and/or family members if you get sick: wash your hands well and regularly, use hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water, cover a cough or sneeze, wear a mask in public, regularly sanitize highly-touched items in your home, etc. But as Texas opens back up and many companies are bringing their employees back into the office, you may be wondering how you can best prepare your immune system to effectively fight back if you do get exposed to the virus — or worse, you get sick.
Your immune system is designed to fight off illnesses and viruses, but the immune system can get worn down by many things typical of a modern, busy life. Unfortunately, many of these things have also become even more prolific during the pandemic, such as stress, interrupted sleep, lack of exercise and unhealthy eating. These things prevent our bodies from effectively fighting off sickness.
With coronavirus continuing to spread and more people integrating back into social settings, it’s more important than ever to support the immune system. Here are a few ways to boost your immunity in preparation:
When you’re stressed out your body produces stress hormones that negatively affect your immune system, according to the American Psychological Association. So one of the most important ways to boost immunity is to reduce stress. We know that’s easier said than done, especially right now.
“While we can’t always change the factors leading to stress in our lives, it is important to be aware of how we respond to stress,” says Scott Domingue, Chief Nursing Officer of Texas Health Behavioral Health. “As we are mindful of our responses, we can improve the stress reaction and reduce the potential negative impact it can have on us emotionally and physically.”
Domingue offers up a few tips to help you deal with stress in a better way:
- Change your surroundings: If you know a situation will stress you out, avoid or change it.
- Say no to too many demands on your time: You can only take on so much! Your family will benefit from the extra unscheduled time with you. This will also provide time for self-care routines.
- Communicate: It’s okay to tell your boss you feel frustrated by your workload and ask for a solution. It’s okay to ask your spouse for help with a task. No one will know you are upset if you don’t tell them, and if they don’t know, they can’t help.
- Adjust standards: The house doesn’t have to be spic and span and you don’t have to make all of your family meals from scratch. Nothing has to be perfect … including you!
- Laugh: According to Healthline, laughing can help improve your immune system and mood.
Many of us walk around this world in a state of constant exhaustion. But every time we stay awake when our bodies want us to sleep, we increase stress and hurt our immunity. If we’re drinking caffeinated drinks all the time (e.g., coffee, black tea, soda) we may not even realize just how tired we really are. Because sleeping is essential to rebuilding a struggling immune system, we need to let ourselves sleep as much as we need.
Consume immunity-boosting vitamins
To support your immune system, you can eat immunity supporting foods like citrus fruits (grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes), garlic, broccoli and spinach. If your immune system is already weak or you’re already feeling a bit under the weather, it can also be helpful to add key vitamins and minerals that may be depleted, such as Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Vitamin D and Zinc.
Remember, it’s always better to get key nutrients from food first, but if your diet doesn’t allow certain foods or it’s hard for you to consume a variety of foods in order to reach sufficient levels, a multivitamin can be supplemented. For tips on picking the right supplement, head over to our post, “What’s in Your Supplement?”
When inflammation occurs, chemicals from your white blood cells are released to protect your body. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, something is attacking us and we need to take action!”
You’ve most likely experienced inflammation from a sprained ankle or a bug bite, but did you know food can have pro-inflammatory properties? Sugar, processed meat, vegetable oils and alcohol tend to be inflammatory foods. And when your immune system is busy dealing with processing these things, it can leave other problems in your body unaddressed. That’s why it can be really helpful to remove these inflammatory foods if we want a healthy immune system.
As a general rule, Norin Ukani, a family nurse practitioner and registered nurse on the medical staff at Texas Health Plano and at Texas Health Pain Relief & Wellness Center, recommends the following guidelines to help decrease inflammation through diet:
- Eat the Rainbow — Eat vegetables and fruits with all different colors, because they top the list as powerhouses of nutrition. Try to get at least three different colors on your plate for every meal.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet — Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats with omega-3s-walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, etc. lean proteins-salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, etc. and plenty of water. Also, add herbs and spices, turmeric, black pepper, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. Ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Limit or eliminate simple carbohydrates — White bread, white flour, white rice, etc. and added sugar and red meat.
- Eliminate processed foods — boxed meals, fried foods, cookies, etc.
Exercise, but not too much
Exercise can be one of the best things to do to boost immunity. But you have to be careful because too much exercise can actually do the opposite and stress your body, and as we covered, stress doesn’t do your immune system any favors.
Overtraining can be hard to identify, especially if you’re just getting started; there’s pushing yourself to healthy limits and then there’s overtraining. Below are some telltale signs that you might be overtraining:
- Decreased performance — The telltale sign of overtraining is a lack of improved performance, despite an increase in training intensity or volume. Decreased agility, strength and endurance, such as slower reaction times and reduced running speeds are all common signs of overtraining.
- Increased effort during workouts — Not only can overtraining decrease performance, it can also make usually effortless workouts feel unusually difficult. A clear sign of this is an abnormally elevated heart rate during exercise or throughout the day.
- Excessive fatigue — A few days of fatigue or “heavy legs” is expected at times. But fatigue will accumulate in a body that never has a chance to fully recover from previous workouts.
- Agitation and moodiness — Overtraining significantly affects your stress hormones, including cortisol and epinephrine. This hormonal imbalance can cause mood swings, unusual irritability and an inability to concentrate.
- Insomnia or restless sleep — Sleep provides the body time to rest and repair itself. But overproduction of stress hormones, as mentioned above, may not allow you to wind down or completely relax, making sleep much less effective.
This post was originally posted on AreYouaWellBeing.TexasHealth.org.