While there is no surefire way to control whether you catch a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, there ARE meaningful immune supporting habits you can do on a daily basis that will make a difference if (or when) you get sick.
By consistently practicing healthy behaviors, you can not only reduce exposure and susceptibility to certain illnesses, but also optimize immune function over time and better prepare your body for foreign invaders.
Even though solid immune function relies on many factors, fundamental health and fitness habits can help. Here are seven constructive things you can work on now to help you feel a little more in control in such uncertain times.
Focus on Whole Foods and Key Nutrients
To avoid nutrient deficiencies, eat plenty of whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, protein, and healthy fats. In addition, consuming minimally processed whole foods can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body fat level, which is very important to proper immune system function.
Certain nutrients also strengthen your white blood cells’ ability to fight infection, including:
Protein: The building block of antibodies. People who are protein-deficient are more susceptible to infectious disease. Aim for a serving of lean protein with every meal and snack.
Vitamin C: Needed to prevent and fight infections. Aim for 1-2 servings per day of colorful fruits and vegetables such as citrus, green and red peppers, broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes, and leafy greens.
Vitamin D: Helps protect against respiratory tract infections. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” the sun is one of the best sources of Vitamin D. If you don’t live in a sunny place, talk to your physician about a liquid supplement with 600-4,000 IU/day.
Zinc: Supports T-cells. Whole food sources—like whole grains, oysters, scallops, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, quinoa, eggs, mushrooms, pork, seafood, and beef—are best, but lozenges might also help if you are already sick.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Reduce inflammation and help white blood cells do their job. Eat plant sources of ALA daily—such as chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds—and oily fish for DHA/EPA 2-3 times a week (or consider a supplement if you don’t eat fish).
Improve your Gut Health
Eat foods with pre- and probiotics like bananas, plain greek yogurt, and sauerkraut, which can boost good gut bacteria. Struggling to resolve gut issues? Try an elimination diet to detect food intolerances and sensitivities. For more information on how to improve your gut health, check out our full article HERE.
Move Your Body
Exercise has long-term health-protective effects, and is a great way to reduce stress and enhance immunity. If you’re not comfortable getting in the gym right now, get outside for a run, bike ride, or do a workout in the comfort of your own home! If you are interested in setting up a plan for customized workouts you can do right in your living room, set up a free consult with us HERE.
Moderate Your Alcohol Intake
It’s not clear how alcohol affects immunity, but there’s plenty of evidence that heavy drinking jeopardizes health. Keep your drinking light to moderate (at or under 7 drinks per week for women, 14 for men).
Get Some Sleep
Getting good quality sleep is imperative to our recovery and our health. Aim for 7 to 9 good hours a night by working on your sleep hygiene. A few good tips to get you started:
Turn off electronics 30 minutes before bed
Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages 7 hours before bedtime
Clear your mind with reading, meditation, or gentle movement
Stick to a reasonable bedtime, ideally before 12 am
Make your room as dark as possible
Keep your sleep area cool and clean
Manage Your Stress
Completely eliminate stress in your life? Unrealistic. Instead, find a middle ground. Prioritize downtime and parasympathetic activity like meditation, a nature walk, or laughing with a friend. For a list of 10 ways to help manage stress, check out THIS article.
Practice Good Hygiene
By now we know we need to wash our hands often for at least 20 seconds, stay 6 or more feet apart from others, and not to touch our face. Here are some other things to keep in mind:
Wash hands thoroughly. Don’t forget to scrub wrists, nail beds, under nails, and between fingers.
Disinfect frequently-used objects and surfaces. Use soap and water, a diluted bleach solution, or household cleaning spray/wipes with at least 70% alcohol for hard surfaces, and the washing machine on high heat for fabrics. Avoid sponges, which are hard to keep bacteria-free.
Some other common things you want to make sure to clean and wipe down regularly are your phone, laptop, and keyboard, door handles, fridge, cupboard, and drawer handles, railings, workout equipment (before and after), shopping carts and baskets
Use these tips to maintain your routine while helping to optimize your immune system function and prioritize your health. However, don’t get bogged down trying to do everything on this list every day. “Fundamental” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy,” especially in these unprecedented times.
There is nothing wrong with starting small by picking and choosing strategies that work for you TODAY. Do what makes sense in the moment and work on incorporating more over time.