Much of the news surrounding Covid-19 can make us feel powerless against the virus, but the fact is that we can make certain lifestyle changes that help us take back control of our health. The 7 strategies below can help to empower our immune system, enabling it to ward off or fight back against disease so that even if we do contract Covid, chances are it will not be a severe case and we can recover.
An anti-inflammatory diet is an important component in achieving and maintaining a strong immune system and healthy gut microbiome. While there’s no one diet that’s right for every person, in general, the Mediterranean diet is a good place to start and can be used as a basis for establishing healthy eating patterns. It has many of the elements that help fight inflammation: it’s plant-based, high in fiber, and includes healthy fats (like olive oil), fruits, legumes, vegetables, and fish. Cutting out processed foods and added sugars also goes a long way toward reducing chronic inflammation.
Exercise boosts nitric oxide levels, which improves blood flow and brain function and lowers blood pressure. (To put the importance of good nitric oxide levels in perspective, less than optimal levels are associated with diabetes and heart disease.) However, during the pandemic, moderate exercise is preferable to intense exercise; that’s because intense exercise causes cortisol and endorphins to surge, which stimulates the immune system. An overactive immune system can create a cytokine storm, which is thought to be at the root of Covid-19 deaths. In fact, many of the medications that are being considered to fight Covid-19 work to calm the cytokine storm. Keeping the immune system calm but strong is the goal.
Getting a good night’s sleep regularly (7-9 hours) helps your body defend itself against infection through increased immune system functionality. Good sleep boosts T cells (specialized immune system cells), which essentially attach to and attack harmful foreign bodies in the system. Sleep has been shown to enhance T cell response efficiency.
Stress creates cortisol, which becomes a problem when stress goes on for extended periods of time. Chronic stress creates inflammation and lowers your white blood cell count, both of which reduce the immune system’s ability to fight off infection and makes us more prone to viruses.
Getting outside into the fresh air and sunshine is vital for a healthy immune system—not only does the sun drench you with all-important vitamin D, it also activates key immune cells. Sunlight also increases the production of serotonin in the brain, which helps lower stress and anxiety.
Yes, laughter actually has a positive effect on the immune system—it increases antibody production and activates protective cells including T cells, proving the old saying “Laughter is the best medicine.” By decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells as well as infection-fighting antibodies, your body becomes more resistant to viruses and diseases in general. In addition, laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which makes us feel good and has been known to temporarily relieve pain.
Get a pet
There’s been a surge of pet adoptions during this pandemic, and that’s a good thing for both these lucky animals and for their new owners. Studies have shown that pet ownership can lower blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol, alleviate loneliness, and encourage exercise, not to mention they can bring laughter and happiness into a home, which lowers stress levels.