Take Responsibility for your Immune System
We constantly hear and see our heads of state tell us what we are not allowed to do. Never are we educated on what strategies we can personally use to boost our immune system and protect against disease. We are treated like prisoners in our own country with commands and decrees. What if we acted like soldiers instead, readying ourselves for battle. Honing our skills and training like our life depended on it? Well, guess what? It does. Instead of meandering through life with shitty habits and poor lifestyle choices, you can take charge of your immune system and give it a fighting chance against Covid-19 and other virulent diseases.
Think about the immune system as a microscopic army that lives in your body. Its job is to identify invaders and eliminate them before they grow too strong. You wouldn’t send malnutritioned and weak soldiers to battle in defense of the country, yet this is how some of us treat our immune system. It needs all the essential vitamins and minerals to perform at its fighting best. Nutrients such a Vit C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein are vital for immune cell development and response. Research studies indicate that having normal levels of essential vitamins and minerals will decrease the duration, contraction rate, and severity of symptoms of upper respiratory infections. Processed foods are generally deficient in micronutrients. If too much of your diet is made up of these types of foods, you may be lacking in many of these essential vitamins and minerals. As a result, your soldiers will be lethargic, weak, and not fit for battle.
Actionable Tip: Follow the 90/10 rule. 90% or more of the food you eat should come from a whole food source. Buy food such as meat, vegetables, and fruits that have to be prepared and cooked. Avoid foods that come pre-packed in a box or bag. Most of this food is junk and nutritionally depleted.
Immune cells tend to hang out in places like lymphatic tissue and organs such as the spleen. This is where they do much of their virus-killing work. During exercise, your muscles are in a constant state of contracting and relaxing. All this movement increases blood and lymphatic flow dramatically. Increased blood flow mobilizes your immune cells, and they circulate around the body at a much higher rate. Think of it like soldiers on patrol. They will miss many more enemies by just sitting in base camp instead of in the field on a search and destroy mission. It has been shown in a 2019 study that immune cells have a large uptick in circulation for up to 3 hours after a 45-minute brisk walk. This effect also starts to compound over time. The more consistently you exercise or perform moderate physical activity each day, the more mobilized your immune system will become. Another 2011 study showed a reduction in the severity of symptoms and a whopping 43% decrease in the duration of an upper respiratory infection (common cold) in people that exercise 5 days or more per week.
Actionable Tip: Move daily and often. If you have a sedentary job, it is that much more important to build in daily physical activity that is exertional. Swimming, jogging, brisk bike riding, and circuit training are great ways to get those immune cells circulating and fight off invaders.
Sleep and immune system health are tied together. They each affect the other. Repair and recovery are significantly ramped up when we are asleep. This includes healing an injury as well as fighting off an illness. Immune cell production and proliferation are increased during sleep. It has been shown that immune memory and response are also reinforced during this time. The increased immune system response follows along with our normal sleep cycles. Cutting our sleep short or not getting enough will disrupt this cycle, thereby weakening the immune system. Consistently getting less sleep than you should make you more susceptible to short-term illness and is linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart dysfunction.
Actionable Tip: Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. A trick I used to get more sleep was to wake up earlier. This caused me to become tired earlier in the night. When I felt tired, I would go to bed. I repeated this process until I started to become tired at 9. I fall asleep around 9:15 every night and wake up at 4:30 in the morning. Not only am I getting more sleep than before, but I have a nice relaxing morning routine before work every day. Win/Win.
Temporary stress is your friend. Long-term stress is the enemy. Stress releases Cortisol which interferes with the immune response and decreases the number of certain immune cells. Cortisol is great short-term because it is one of our flight or fight hormones. However, chronic stress creates a state of constant elevated Cortisol, which is very bad for immunity. Chronic stress can be both physical or mental. For example, high-level athletes in a state of overtraining leading up to competition are more susceptible to getting sick. This is because they train so much, and with such intensity, they go beyond their bodies’ ability to repair the damage from the previous session before doing it all over again. The longer they are in an over-trained state, the weaker the immune system becomes and the more illness they will get.
Chronic stress can also be emotional/mental. We all know emotional stressors can take a toll on us. For example, having a toxic/hostile home or work life will lead to much more Cortisol secretion throughout the day due to always being on edge. Holding physical or emotional tension long-term is detrimental not only to immune health but also to heart health.
Actionable Tip: Know what your resting heart rate is under normal non-stressful circumstances. Take it daily. If your resting heart rate starts to creep up 5 to 10 beats above normal, it may be because you are overtraining. Also, take 10 minutes alone. Sit quietly and reflect on potential emotional stressors in your life. Once identified, determine the steps to take to start eliminating them. Trust me, it’s worth it.
- Take action and be responsible for your own immune system health.
- Eat a mostly whole food diet. Micronutrients are vital to immune health and function.
- Participate in moderate physical activity most days of the week. Move often and circulate those immune cells.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to allow your immune system to do its job effectively
- Do not over-exercise. Identify mental stressors in your life and take action to eliminate them.
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