During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been many changes to our daily lives. Many of us are trying to learn how to navigate these changes and begin to transition back into life as we lived before, maybe with some modifications based on our state’s laws or personal preferences. Nonetheless, this has been a time of unknown factors for many of us and has brought with it an increase in life stressors for so many of us.
Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Here are 5 simple lifestyle modifications that most anyone can implement to foster a stronger immune system and help to ward off illness.
1. Sleep at least 7 hours per night
There have been numerous studies on the benefits of getting adequate rest. This is your body’s time for rest and repair and the lymphatic system in your brain also drains optimally at night. Adequate sleep helps to maintain a more healthy weight, which decreases the inflammatory burden and also helps to build the immune system. Lack of sleep contributes to decreased mental sharpness, forgetfulness, increased irritability, and being more prone to illness. Do yourself and your body a favor by getting some more ZZZ’s into your schedule!
Some helpful ways to ensure more restful sleep is to avoid electronics in the bedroom, such as watching TV. Avoid blue light from smartphones, tablets, or computers as this can be stimulating to the brain and be counterproductive to sleeping well. Sleep in a cool, dark room. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can interfere with deep REM sleep. And if you nap during the day, make sure to not sleep too long to avoid nighttime sleep disturbance.
2. Eat a healthy diet and take time to chew and digest your food properly
Food is not just an energy source for your body; it is also a chemical messenger to all of the cells in your body! Choosing to give your body plenty of fresh organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed, free-range meats can help to build a more robust immune system and can also contribute to a better mood and improved overall health(1).
Conversely, you can choose to feed your body foods that are full of sugar, colorants, and chemicals and increase the body burden of foreign things to metabolize. It is very likely, if your food comes in a package or a box it is not the most healthy option. Read the labels! If there are multiple ingredients that are difficult to pronounce or are not naturally occurring foods on the label, it may be best to move on to another option. What type of messages are you sending to your body with the foods you are choosing?
3. Move your body!
Exercise has a host of health benefits for both physical and mental health! It helps to release those feel-good hormones called “endorphins” that help to boost mood, decrease depression, and can also modulate or boost the immune system to help prevent illness. What’s better than exercise alone? Doing activities in garden or balcony to get a little sunshine in the process! Many people in my experience have low levels of vitamin D when checked by blood. Low vitamin D levels decrease the immune systems ability to fight infections.
I also suggest that people speak with their healthcare providers prior to implementing an exercise regimen in case of any underlying health conditions. After being cleared for physical activity, start slow to build up your exercise tolerance over time. Remember that even exercise is a stressor on the body, and it’s always best to slowly condition yourself for increased activity so that your body handles the increase in activity more easily.
4. Manage your stress
Stress hormones are a powerful thing and can negatively affect many systems in the body. Chronic stress can lower the immune system and prevent your body from being able to fight infections well. It can also contribute to things such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and can also negatively affect blood sugar and blood pressure, all of which affect the immune system.
Ways to help manage stress are to talk with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor about the things causing stress in your life. Ensuring adequate rest is an important factor for having good resistance to stress and being able to more easily manage it. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, but as stated before, make sure that you are physically fit for an increase in your physical activity.
Meditation or prayer are also a great outlets for stress reduction and this can be done alone or with friends, family, or peers. Self care is another. Take some time for yourself while many of us have families, jobs, and children, etc. It is important to take some time for yourself. Read a book, take a long bath, listen to music, or do some other activity you enjoy that lowers those stress hormones.
5. Maintain social connections
The connections that we share with family and friends can come with many health benefits. There have been many studies on social connection and prevention of disease, increased length of life, fewer health problems, better cognition… Not only that it can contribute to an improved sense of purpose and belonging.
All of these factor mentioned above decrease stress and this fact alone can give the immune system a boost! So even if you are social distancing, remember to stay connected with family and friends whether this is by phone, video calls or conferencing, even things as simple as texting or email so that you, your friends, and family can reap the benefits of staying socially connecting with you.
Aside from these five factors it is always important to remember proper hand hygiene, remember to not touch your face with unwashed hands, cough or sneeze into your elbow area and not your hands to prevent spread of germs, and keep your distance from those who are known to be sick.
About the Author:
Melissa Milicevic – MSN, APRN, ACNPC-AG, CFMP
Melissa is an advanced practice registered nurse with a concentration in adult and gerontology acute care. She is also certified in functional medicine through Functional Medicine University and is a Shoemaker CIRS Proficiency Partner which focuses on treatment of mold or biotoxin related illness and post Lyme syndrome.