How to Strengthen Your Immune System to Resist COVID-19
Our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates want to reiterate that the best way to avoid infection with the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is to wash your hands frequently, stay home whenever possible, and to practice social distancing when you can’t. And also that there is no treatment or preventative that can ensure you won’t contract it.
But it is also true that those with weakened or compromised immune systems fare much worse when they contract COVID-19, so we think it’s worth reminding you of steps you can take to boost your immune system to help fight off this or any illness.
Keeping inflammation in check
Severe inflammation is one effect that doctors have noted in nearly every COVID-19 patient, as the body tries desperately to ward off this unfamiliar new contagion. And in addition to the coronavirus, inflammation has been proposed as the single factor most responsible for more illnesses than any other.
Inflammation is caused by various attacks on the body by irritating or even harmful stressors, such as pathogens, injuries, or poor lifestyle habits. The body then tries to heal the resulting tissue damage by rushing white blood cells and their protective chemicals to the site.
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute is the kind in which the body mounts a defense against sudden injury or illness like COVID-19. Chronic inflammation results from the body spending months or even years attempting to fight off constant, lower-level threats, such as pollution, inadequate nutrition, and the effects of ongoing stress.
So chronic inflammation can worsen the acute inflammation of COVID-19 by lowering the body’s defenses before it even encounters the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
To boost your immunity to COVID-19 and other diseases, therefore, you need to take steps to strengthen your immune system by reducing inflammation throughout the body.
- Eat well
A healthy diet is the foundation of a healthy body. Poor-quality foods—sugar, salt, fats, processed foods—all trigger inflammation throughout the body. Opt instead for fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, high-quality/low-fat protein, whole grains, beans and legumes, and water.
- Get enough sleep
If there’s a close second to eating properly for maintaining health, quality sleep would be it. The time spent sleeping is when the body lowers the stress hormone cortisol and repairs the damage to cells encountered during the day. Seven to eight hours nightly is optimal.
Regular exercise is also crucial to boosting the immune system. When you engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two hours and thirty minutes every week, the cells release a protein called Interleukin 6, which has an anti-inflammatory effect throughout the body.
It’s difficult these days, we know, when so many normal exercise venues are unavailable. But there are plenty of alternatives in your home that can get your heart rate up: jumping rope, climbing stairs, jumping jacks, sit ups . . . all the things people used to do before the advent of gyms. Even a brisk walk confers cardiovascular benefits that improve your overall health.
- Reduce stress
Chronic stress causes the body to react with chronic inflammation. Relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga . . . anything that helps reduce stress will also reduce inflammation and improve immune function.
- Practice deep breathing
If you take just five minutes a day to practice abdominal breathing, your stress levels will drop almost at once. Lying on your back, place one hand on your chest, the other on your abdomen. Breathe slowly through your nose, trying not to let the hand on your chest move at all, while the hand on your belly rises and lowers with each breath. This exercise forces air deep into your lungs and helps release toxins from your body.
- Listen to music
Any type of music, as long as you enjoy it, will relieve stress. Research shows music produces natural opiates and endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones that counteract cortisol. And singing along with others has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 96 percent. Dancing to the music not only offers a good workout, but improves your mood, too, which also reduces stress.
- Engage in a hobby
Gardening, painting, scrapbooking, coloring books: Anything that you can focus on fully in the moment will take your mind off your stressors and allow your body to adjust cortisol levels to normal.
- Stop smoking
Every puff of a cigarette triggers inflammation throughout the body. In addition, smokers have been found to have a more difficult time recovering from a COVID-19 infection.
And now some good news! We will begin seeing patients in our office once again beginning on May 18th with stringent safety protocols in place. So contact us now for an appointment.