Turn on your favorite nightly news show, and there’s a good chance the current COVID-19 pandemic is the main topic of the evening. Daily fatality tolls, debates over reopening, and state by state differentiations usually top this list. If one thing is certain it is that this virus is real, and can cause significant health impacts, especially for those in ‘high risk’ categories. You’ll often see public health officials stressing the importance of social distancing, good hygiene, frequent handwashing, wearing masks, and avoiding ‘high contamination’ areas. These are all great practices, all of which I strongly endorse. However, one of the most clear and obvious things you can do to defend yourself is not getting near enough attention: strengthen your immune system!
It seems like this should be one of the leading talking points of every COVID-related conversation, but it unfortunately is not. We instead have politicized the situation, causing unnecessary divide, while letting our medical system bare the brunt of the increasingly growing infected population. If you’ve been paying attention the past several decades you’ll realize we weren’t exactly the healthiest nation to begin with! I’m not here to argue politics or semantics, but I will give you some information on how to improve your immune health. Regardless of your opinion on COVID, an optimally healthy immune system is something all humans should strive for. Outlined below are several key areas in which you can focus on for building a strong and optimal immune system.
A healthy diet will play a key role in maximizing immune function, but what does this look like? Proper intake of key vitamins and nutrients, maintaining a healthy body composition, and maintaining proper hormonal balance are a few ways nutrition impacts your immune system. Below are some goals to strive for in your nutritional habits:
Eat mostly, minimally processed whole foods (fruits, vegetables, leans meats, nuts, seeds & whole grains)
Limit your intake of processed foods (sweets, pastries, frozen meals, fast food, fried foods, soda, trans fats)
Eat protein at every meal (lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, seitan)
Eat healthy fats at each meal (nuts, seeds, avocado, fatty fish, plant oils, nut butters)
Eat appropriate portion sizes for your body (Check out the Precision Nutrition portion sizing scale)
Physical activity can help push bacteria out of the lungs and airways, cause changes in white blood cells and antibodies, and slow down the release of stress hormones. Getting a mixture of strength training, cardiovascular exercise, and non-structured activity will all benefit the body immensely. A healthy body composition, blood profile, and bone mineral density are all exercise-related factors that will benefit immune health. Aim to meet the criteria laid out in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition (2018):
For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.
Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.
Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
Good sleeping habits are essential to a healthy immune system. Getting 7 hours per night is the minimum you should strive for. Studies have shown that getting an uninterrupted full night of sleep helps generate more T cells, anti-inflammatory cytokines, and other immune cells that help fight infection and disease. Being generally rested will also aid in proper tissue repair from exercise, better decision making in regards to nutrition and hygiene habits, and having the stamina to partake in daily physical activity. Below are some helpful habits that can help aid in better overall sleep, as detailed by Mayo Clinic:
Stick to a regular sleep schedule (lay down and rise at the same time daily).
Pay attention to what you eat and drink (limit large meals close to bedtime, be mindful of caffeine and alcohol consumption).
Create a restful environment (ideally a room that is cool, dark, and quiet).
Limit daytime naps (limit naps to 30 minutes, and avoid them late in the day).
Include physical activity in your daily routine (regular exercise promotes regular sleep patterns).
Manage worries (clear your mind of stress before laying down for bed, write down what you need to complete the next day, so it doesn’t keep you up at night).
Keep in mind that these health practices are not a 100% guarantee against contracting any given disease or illness, but implementing them will give you much more of a fighting chance. In addition you’ll lower your risk of chronic disease, and increase your chances of longevity. Who wouldn’t want these additional benefits! If you’re in need of some fitness motivation you can enjoy from the convenience of your own home, make sure to check out SWT-live.com and book your first free virtual fitness class! Until next time stay safe, smart, and active!
Written by SWT-Live fitness instructor, Benn Fineman