I write this having entered, like everyone else, into isolation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. People are in a state of panic; supermarkets aisles are empty with people having bought more food than they could possibly consume in the coming weeks, hand sanitizer has become a hot commodity, and people stare angrily if they even suspect you are unwell (regardless of whether you show symptoms or not) but is some time indoors really all that bad? Perhaps it is the much-needed opportunity for respite that each of us, in some way, so desperately craves.
Meanwhile, the report of a 47-year-old woman who contracted Covid-19 and recovered has hit news outlets. Health professionals credit her ‘unexpectedly strong immune response’ which made me wonder how we might use this time at home to boost our immune systems so that we may be at our strongest to fight off this ghastly thing because after all, prevention is always better than cure.
While the actions below may feel like the very last things you want to focus on, I implore you to try. Not just because you will feel better but because they will enhance your performance and frankly we find ourselves in a time where our well-being depends on it. And so here they are, 7 hacks for boosting your immune system
Put on some comfortable pyjamas, crawl into bed and get an early night. With the world outside at practically a standstill and your social calendar stark, there is no fear of missing out to keep you awake.
Yes, it is an incredibly stressful time and many people are feeling the weight of anxiety making it difficult for them to switch off but quality sleep will only strengthen one’s ability to deal with everything. Sleep is such a quick win, easy to do and hugely beneficial to every aspect of our well being. Sleep deprivation (and that includes poor quality sleep) weakens your immune system, leaving you susceptible to illness. When you don’t get the full amount of restful sleep you need, you make fewer cytokines, a protein that targets infection and inflammation and acts as an immune response. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends daily naps and when will there be a better opportunity to do this than now?! Their recommendation, especially during flu season, that taking a morning and afternoon nap of no longer than 30 minutes has been shown to decrease stress and offset negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system. For our brains, sleep is a period of restoration. During these glorious midnight hours, we transition from one sleep stage to another allowing our brain to restore it’s capacity for learning, make room for new memories and prepare for the day ahead.
2. Take A Cold Shower
Cryotherapy is a method by which the body is exposed to intense cold for short periods of time and which causes the blood vessels near the skin to contract (vacoconstriction) and redirect blood to major organs to maintain core body temperature. Whilst this is happening, your blood fills with oxygen, nutrients and restorative enzymes and this blood then makes its way back to your skin, muscle tissue and organs. Whilst the exact effect in the immune system isn’t yet fully understood yet, researchers have some knowledge of the pathways involved. Wim Hof, the guru of all things cold, explains that benefits found include; speeding up the metabolism, reducing inflammation, improved quality of sleep, enhanced focus and improved immune response. Now given that few of us are likely to have a cryotherapy chamber in our basements, a cold shower will suffice and as unpleasant as it seems, the benefits do outweigh. Luckily the weather is warming up!
3. Mindfulness – Adult Colouring
Research shows that mindfulness meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, right anterior insula and the right hippocampus. These areas act as the command centre for the body’s immune system. Mindfulness meditation stimulates these areas which in turn helps the immune system function more effectively. However, for those that struggle with meditation why not try alternative mindfulness activities such as colouring in? A perfect activity for the situation we find ourselves in; relaxing, immune boosting, fun and a great way to pass the time. Amazon has many books to choose from. Time to let those artistic juices flow.
The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defence system has been well documented. Numerous studies have found that acute exercise improves defense activity and metabolic health. Through promoting good circulation, the immune system’s cells and substances move through the body freely and efficiently. Regular exercise also acts to improve mood, reduce stress and enhance general well being overall. There are numerous online fitness classes for at home work-outs so don’t let the gym closures stop you.
5. Consider Your Diet
You may discover, after a quick visit to your local supermarket, that you aren’t spoilt for choice but hopefully people will soon realise there is more than enough food to go around and start to shop responsibly. Stress levels are running high so try to limit anxiety inducing foods such as processed meat, fried foods, refined cereals, refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine. Instead try to load up on leafy greens, oily fish, nuts and if you simply won’t give up your daily coffee, restrict it to the first half of the day, avoiding caffeine after 3pm. Perhaps the extra time at home is just the opportunity you have been looking for to dust off those cookbooks and experiment in the kitchen
6. Immunity Promoting Foods
There are some foods you may want to increase your intake of in order to better support your immune system. A quick google search will yield numerous results but here are a few to get you started;
Garlic – a great immune-boosting ingredient thanks to the heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, feel free to be heavy handed with it and add it in everything. Garlic has also been linked to helping lower blood pressure and slowing down the hardening of arteries.
Turmeric – known for its anti-inflammatory properties it is great for the immune system and the brain. If curries are not your thing, opt for a curcumin (principal curcuminoid of tumeric) supplement.
Spinach – rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and beta carotene it supports the infection-fighting activities of our immune systems. Retain its nutrients by eating raw (in a salad) or cooking as little as possible.
Citrus fruits – a good source of Vitamin C. Vitamin C helps increase white blood cells which are key to fighting infections.
Broccoli – contains vitamins A, C and E, fiber and antioxidants. Try cooking to cook as little as possible to really get the best out of it nutritionally.
I know it may sound silly but go on and have a good laugh! A funny book or comedy film or tv series ought to help if you need a cue. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies therefore improving one’s resistance. It also helps release tension and releases endorphins creating an overall sense of well-being. If that isn’t reason enough, some studies have found that laughing for 10-15 minutes per day can burn approximately 40 calories!
In these unprecedented times, we will all feel pushed to our limits at some point but we must do what we can to get through this period and ensure we are well equipped to deal with the challenge ahead. Our time in isolation will come to a close and we want to re-enter the world strong, health and performing optimally.