In a time when so much seems beyond our control, we want to control what we can. While it’s likely that many Americans will contract the coronavirus, the severity of any individual’s illness is difficult to predict. One thing we each can do is give our immune systems what they need to be in top shape to fight whatever comes our way. Here are seven ways you can support your immune system.
1. Get plenty of sleep.
Your immune system needs sufficient sleep to function properly. A UC San Francisco study found that among participants exposed to a cold virus, people who regularly slept less than six hours per night were 4.2 times more likely to get sick than those who slept more than seven hours per night. Those who slept less than five hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to get sick than the seven-hour-plus sleepers.
Of course, getting enough sleep may not be easy. Especially in times of stress, many people have trouble falling and staying asleep. If you’re experiencing insomnia, there are several natural ways you can help your mind and body relax and improve your sleep, such as meditation, exercise, herbs, and melatonin supplementation. Try out one or more strategy and see what works best for you.
2. Manage stress.
Stress is associated with the production of cortisol. While this can provide short-term benefits, elevated cortisol over prolonged periods can contribute to inflammation and a decrease in disease-fighting white blood cells. Chronic stress can also lead to anxiety and depression, which, in turn, can further exacerbate inflammation and make you more susceptible to illness. Additionally, loneliness can contribute to depression and stress. If you’re isolated from friends and family who normally provide social and emotional support, finding ways to connect remotely could help.
You can take steps to manage your stress and reduce the amount of cortisol in your blood. Meditation and exercise are two ways to reduce stress and increase your disease resistance. Try meditating for 10 to 15 minutes per day, practicing yoga, or engaging in another type of exercise on a regular basis. In a study of adults 50 and older during flu season, those who engaged in either an 8-week moderate exercise or 8-week meditation program experienced less severe symptoms and were sick fewer days than those in the control group.
3. Get regular exercise.
In addition to its stress-reducing power, exercise may have direct benefits to the immune system. Moderate exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of upper respiratory tract infection, and regular physical activity is correlated with reduced rates of influenza and pneumonia as well as lower death rates from these illnesses. Don’t overdo it, though; heavy exertion can overtax your body and actually make you more vulnerable to disease.
4. Eat a healthy diet.
A healthy diet is always an essential part of maintaining a strong immune system. Experts recommend a balanced diet that includes a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, which helps ensure sufficient intake of vital nutrients. Some foods may also provide additional immune benefits. Probiotics, contained in foods such as yogurt and other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, and miso, support the microbiome and are associated with reduced symptoms and duration of respiratory illness.
5. Supplement with vitamin D.
Vitamin D is necessary for our bodies to produce the proteins that kill viruses and bacteria, especially in the respiratory tract. As a result, insufficient levels of vitamin D can make us more vulnerable to respiratory infection. A review of 25 randomized controlled trials that included more than 11,000 participants found that vitamin D supplements reduced the risk of respiratory tract infection. The protective effect was stronger in those whose vitamin D levels were already relatively low (less than 25 nanograms per milliliter).
6. Don’t smoke.
Anything that impedes your lungs’ ability to do their job makes you more susceptible to serious illness and complications arising from coronavirus. This is possibly the worst time in your life to start smoking and the best time to stop. Obviously, this is much more easily said than done, especially in a time of increased stress. Resources are available to help you, however. Visit https://smokefree.gov/ for advice and support.
7. Limit alcohol.
If you’re home from work for days on end, a little day drinking might sound appealing. While moderate alcohol consumption may not be particularly harmful, binge or chronic drinking can wreak havoc on your immune system. Specifically, alcohol has been found to disrupt the function of the cilia in the lungs, whose job is to clear airways of mucus and contaminants—a vital function when you’re battling respiratory illness. Alcohol also weakens the epithelium in the lower airways, which acts as a barrier to pathogens.
All of us at Iowa Radiology wish you good health during this difficult time. We strive to provide reliable, helpful resources for you to support your efforts to take good care of your health. Our blog, ebooks, and infographics are always available for you to browse at no cost.
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