COVID-19 is still upon us. Despite the increasing efforts to end this pandemic, the battle against the dreaded virus is still far from being won. As it continues to pose a threat to the lives of many, it remains imperative that we keep our guards up by ensuring that our immune system is in its best state. That is, of course, in addition to adhering to the minimum public health standards (such as frequent washing of hands, use of face masks and face shields, and social distancing) and getting yourself vaccinated.
How can we support our immune system?
A well-functioning immune system is essentially maintained and supported by healthy habits that can provide sufficient nourishment and time for the immune system to repair itself. In general, the following tips benefit both the immune system and the body’s overall well-being.
1. Maintain a healthy diet
The immune response of our body depends on the presence of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein, to name a few. These nutrients are critical for the immune cells to grow and function.
To get the optimal amount of these nutrients in your body, eat a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings per day), whole grains, legumes, lean protein, and healthy fats. It is also advisable to limit consumption of highly processed food items high in saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars. If you can have direct sunlight exposure during early morning in the safety of your home, the better. This is for you to get Vitamin D.
While eating a balanced diet can be enough for most people, others may need a mineral/vitamin supplement to get the recommended amount of essential nutrients. The people who may need to take a supplement include those with increased nutrient needs (pregnant and lactating women, infants, toddlers, elderly, severely malnourished and critically ill), poor dentition or mental impairment. People with limited access to healthy foods due to lack of transportation and community resources may also benefit from supplements to fill the nutritional gaps.
It is important to remember, however, that supplements should not be considered a total substitute for a healthy diet and that taking mega doses of it is not recommended. Follow the advice of your doctor as to what and how much supplements you should be taking.
2. Stay active
Regular moderate physical activity may support immune health by helping the antibodies, and immune cells circulate more rapidly, which means that they may hunt and destroy foreign invaders quickly.
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities per week. Some examples of moderate exercises that you could try include bicycling, brisk walking, and jogging, but make sure that you follow the community quarantine guidelines if you plan to do these outdoors. For a safer option, do everything indoors if possible. You can walk briskly around the house or up and down the stairs for 10-15 minutes 2 or 3 times per day, dance to your favorite music, jump rope, do an exercise video, or a live or recorded exercise class, or use home cardio machines if you have one.
Just remember not to overdo it with your exercise. While moderate-intensity physical activity is associated with a healthier immune system, high-intensity, high-volume training may suppress immune function, especially if you’re not accustomed to it.
3. Manage stress
When you’re stressed, particularly facing chronic stress, your body releases hormones that suppress your immune system.
Manage your stress by finding healthy strategies that work well for you and your lifestyle. Examples of stress management techniques that you can try include meditation, doing your favorite hobby, or talking to a trusted friend. Another tip is to practice regular, conscious breathing throughout the day and when feelings of stress arise.
4. Get adequate sleep
Sleep is a time of restoration for the body, during which an infection-fighting substance (a type of cytokine) is released. Not getting enough sleep lowers the amount of these cytokines and other immune cells that help defend the body against diseases.
Aim to achieve 7-9 hours of sleep every night by making healthy sleep habits such as keeping a consistent sleeping schedule, following a relaxing sleep routine, and limiting screen time, especially in the hours before bedtime.
5. Quit Smoking
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. Many of these chemicals released by cigarette smoke may interfere with the functions and growth of immune cells.
Experts have also found that smoking can worsen viral and bacterial infections, especially those of the lungs. If you are currently a smoker, explore options to help yourself quit smoking safely.
6. Limit alcohol consumption
The body initially repairs injury and fights infection through a process of inflammation. Usually, this inflammation response signals the immune system that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
However, if there is excessive alcohol in the body, the body may not recognize injury or diseases because the inflammation signal is disrupted. This will result to increased harm and lowered immunity. Alcohol can also significantly impact both the number and the variety of good bacteria in the gut, which weakens our immune system.
When possible, avoid alcohol consumption or limit it to 1 to 2 drinks per day.