COVID-19 pandemic, with its unexpected entry into our lives, have led us to take a few steps back from our fast-moving days and reconnect with things that are essential for health and well-being. Needless to say, our lives prior to the pandemic was about compromised hours of sleep, increased intake of unhealthy food and minimum or no exercise and lack of exposure to sunlight. Not only has it affected our immune system, it has also made us vulnerable to get infected by the dreaded virus. Keeping a healthy immune system is of utmost importance today especially to fight off the virus. While it is crucial to maintain hygiene standards like washing hands frequently, especially after travelling in public transport, taking additional precautions and steps to improve your immunity is paramount at this juncture. Individuals with health disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems and respiratory issues are at a higher risk of having COVID 19 complications. The problems aggravate as you age due to reduced immunity.
Before we proceed to explain ways to keep our immune system strong, we must understand the role our lifestyle plays in building a strong immune system. Stress, depression, anxiety, lack of adequate sleep and too much alcohol can have adverse effects on our immunity and can make us prone to getting infections. Falling sick and feeling fatigued often are signs of weak immunity. A weak immune system creates a barrier in the process of eliminating harmful bacteria, fungi, viruses, and as a result, makes us vulnerable to infections. A struggling immune system indicates that your body needs more energy than normal to keep fighting the infections. According to a study by the John Hopkins University, our gut plays a significant role in the health of our immune system. Frequent stomach issues like diarrhoea or constipation are also signs of a weak immune system. Therefore, a healthy lifestyle is a must for a healthy immune system.
While questions about possibilities about re-infection are making waves in this battle to fight COVID-19, it is important to be well prepared and keep ourselves healthy. Few do’s and don’ts to follow and keep in mind –
- Eat right and consume enough calories with the proper amount of protein: According to the second edition of the ‘Illness to Wellness’ series by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), our body needs proper nutrients to keep our immune system strong and hence, one must boost immunity using local, traditional food and include balanced amount of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals in diet. Food items such as sattu, chana, barley, pumpkin, sunflower, chia and flax seeds and ayurvedic herbs like Ashwagandha can be included in diet for a nutrition boost across all age groups. Coloured fruits and vegetables provide adequate amounts of nutrients and must be included in the diet.
- Quality sleep is not for negotiations: Stress and depression are known to slow down the immune system, resulting in reduced production of white blood cells that makes one an easy target for cold or flu. Hence it is important to manage stress and relax. Sleep, for at least eight hours a day, allows the body to repair and keep you healthy. Studies show that when we sleep, our T-cells of the immune system(white blood cells that help us fight off infection) function better than when we are sleep deprived. So, getting a proper amount of sleep is the key to a healthy immune. It also helps in relaxing the mind and feels better the next morning. Maintain a bedtime to ensure adequate hours of sleep. Also, avoid naps, caffeine and heavy meals late in the day.
- Exercise regularly: Stress leads to decrease in T-cells thereby hampering the immune abilities which make us prone to infections. Regular exercise has shown to help reduce stress, improve the immune system’s regulation. Try moderate exercises such as walking, jogging, swimming, etc. at least 30 minutes per day.
- Limit your outdoor activities: While staying cocooned inside home during the pandemic has become a necessity, outdoor activities has taken a hit. This has led us to limited exposure to sunlight as well. However, with social distancing, frequent use of sanitizers and wearing masks, you can step out of home for limited hours of outdoor activities such as morning walks in the parks, sports, etc. to feel energized mentally and physically.
- Avoid smoking and consumption of tobacco products: Smoking is known to impair the immune system, thus making our body less successful at fighting disease. Additionally, health experts have revealed that smokers are at a high risk of COVID infections, thus a perfect time to quit smoking and avoid consumption of tobacco products.
- Avoid working from office if you’re sick: If you are feeling under the weather, opt for working from home and give yourself time to recover completely. Office spaces mean shared objects and accessories that increase the risk of spreading the germ, Instead, recuperating at home will give you time to rest, sleep and recover.
- Drink water, not alcohol: Hydration is essential for a stronger immunity and helps you beat fatigue and sluggishness. It also helps in the movement of phlegm and mucus that restricts germs from spreading into healthy cells. Choose water instead of binge drinking alcohol to build a stronger immune system and decrease your susceptibility to illness.
By: Dr Govardhan Senior Food Scientist – Enlightlife