Eight Ways to Build Your Immune System as you Continue Social Distancing
As we stay safer at home, there is action we can take to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis possibly healthier than ever. Dr. Kelli Heindel, ThedaCare’s Medical Director of Primary Care, Clinically Integrated Network recommends implementing these immune-building tactics into your daily routine. “Prevention is the best medicine”.
- Wash your hands. To avoid infection from others in your home or out in the public, wash your hands, and wash them frequently. Wash them with soap and warm water and for at least 20 seconds. Also, remove your rings when you do this as well. “We touch many things throughout the day and then we touch our face and then before you know it, we are sick,” said Dr. Heindel. “Viruses enter our system through the eyes, nose and mouth. One rub of the eyes or nose or lick of a finger with unwashed hands can land you in bed feeling ill for days.”
- Rest well. Nothing beats a deep sleep. It’s restorative, removing toxins and inflammation from your body. If you have trouble sleeping, a couple of 30-minute naps will help with sleep deprivation. “Studies show a lack of sleep leaves people more susceptible to getting sick after being exposed to a virus,” said Dr. Heindel.
- Workout wisely. Exercise is medicine. It’s proven to reduce your risk of heart disease and improve the health of your bones. “When it comes to building immunity, working out 30-minutes at least three times a week is believed to do everything from flushing out bacteria from the lungs to causing positive changes in white blood cells – the disease-fighting cells in the immune system,” she said. “Exercise might even slow down stress hormones, which reduce the risk of illness.”
- Eat infection-fighting foods. Food is medicine too. Healthy eating habits are needed over a period of time to build a strong immune system, so make sure you have a colorful plate of fruits, vegetables and proteins with each meal. Focus on fruits, vegetables, meat and fish high in Vitamins C, B6 and E.
- Vitamin C is the best immune system-booster, so be sure foods like oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, and broccoli are on the menu.
- Chicken, salmon, tuna and chickpeas are good choices to increase Vitamin B6 into your meals.
- And for the powerful antioxidant punch of Vitamin E, incorporate nuts, seeds and spinach. Antioxidants prevent an overabundance of inflammation in the body.
- Be good to your gut. Scientists say about 70 percent of your immune system is in your digestive system. And researchers are noting an infection-fighting connection between your lungs and gut. “You want to keep the good bacteria in your stomach to kill the bad bacteria and harmful viruses,” said Dr. Heindel. “When people are stressed, the immune system is compromised.” Dr. Heindel suggests incorporating probiotic foods into everyday eating, foods such as yogurt or kefir. Experts also recommends taking a probiotic supplement, ones that have lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, and saccharomyces strains of biotics, which enhance immune function.
- Take a multivitamin. “There’s no replacement for eating healthy foods to get the nutrients we need, but supplements can fill the gap,” said Dr. Heindel. “A multivitamin serves the purpose.”
- Stay well hydrated. Our bodies are over two-thirds water, and even our bones are composed of more than 20 percent water. Water is needed to transport all nutrients, hormones and even waste through our bodies. “A good rule of thumb is to take your body weight (in pounds) and divide it by two. This is the number of ounces of water that you should be drinking each day,” said Dr. Heindel. “For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you will need about 75 ounces of water per day.”
- Take a break. There is a lot of discussion around improving your immune system, let’s not forget about our mental health. Social media can be a powerful tool for checking on friends and family during this time of social distancing. We should be mindful of how much information we are consuming. “Pick one or two sources and commit to a set time of digesting information,” said Dr. Heindel. “Too much information can lead to anxiety and worry.” Now that we have more time – how about mediating? You can also take walks, pick up a hobby or organize your home. Dr. Heindel prefers kayaking and fishing as her hobbies.
As far as what to avoid, Dr. Heindel said “Smoking, all forms of it: cigarette, vaping, marijuana. You want to keep your lungs as healthy as possible.” Also, reconsider your alcohol consumption.
Dr. Heindel encourages all people to continue social distancing guidelines and stay home, helping flatten the curve in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, while keeping in mind the things we can do to improve our health.
“Maintaining a strong immune system will help you fight back against the germs you will inevitably encounter – COVID-19 or otherwise,” she said. “People are still experiencing symptoms from seasonal allergies, developing head colds and influenza.”