One thing that the COVID 19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is that it’s important to protect and support our immune system. If we are going to win the fight against a virus, we must do whatever we can to help our immune system neutralize a virus before an infection spreads.
Here is my list of things that we should be avoiding at all times, but especially during the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Say “no” to cigarettes: it goes without saying but smoking is not a good idea during the coronavirus pandemic. This is because the pollutants in cigarettes harm the cells of the immune system in our airways, making them less effective at fighting infections. Smoke also affects our body’s ability to clear debris and pathogens from our airways. This is why people who smoke are more susceptible to pneumonia and influenza. My advice: if you are a smoker, this is a very good time to seriously think about quitting. Talk to your physicians about your options or visit https://www.nysmokefree.com.
2. Say “no” to stress. Being quarantined during a pandemic is stressful. However, prolonged periods of stress can affect your immune system. Stress increases the release of cortisol, a hormone which makes it more difficult for T cells, virus-killing white blood cells of our immune system, to function properly. My advice: start with a simple deep breathing exercise and try to do it throughout the day. I do them periodically whenever I am sitting for a prolonged period of time. Breathe in through your nose and watch your chest expand with air, imagine that the air is spreading through your body. Count slowly to three as you inhale. Hold for one second and then slowly breathe out through your nose as you count to three again. Imagine that you are breathing out all the stress, tension and toxins out of your body.
3. Say “no” to sitting on the couch all day and “no” to prolonged periods of high intensity exercise. Mild to moderate exercise is good for the immune system as it stimulates your immune cells but too much exercise can actually be harmful. High intensity grueling workouts like the “quarantine 15” have become popular in the last few weeks but these workouts can be perceived as “stress” by the immune system, particularly when they are done by someone who is not accustomed to them. My advice, start slow: walking around your apartment for 30 minutes each day (I like to break it up into two 15 minute segments) is something that is simple, achievable and immune system-protective.
4. Say “no” to … that 5th rum and coke: there’s probably nothing wrong with closing out the evening with a glass of wine, particularly if you have been working from home and homeschooling. However, excessive alcohol intake is not recommended during a pandemic. Alcohol has a negative effect on all cells of the immune system. Furthermore, in the gut, alcohol can trigger inflammation and destroy the microorganism that maintains a healthy immune system. So how much should you be drinking? No amount of alcohol is necessarily “good” as even small quantities have been shown to impact the immune cells of our immune system. Many factors need to also be taken into consideration such as your gender, age, weight, medical conditions and how much food is consumed with the alcoholic beverage. My recommendation is that you should avoid drinking more than a couple times a week and have not more than 2 drinks at time.
5. Say “no” to sugar: sugar affects the way your white blood cells attack pathogens, increasing the likelihood of an infection. Sugar can also trigger chronic low grade inflammation, which is not helpful when an immune response to a virus is needed. Foods which are high in refined sugar tend to be low in nutrients: we therefore “trick” our bodies into thinking we are well nourished when in fact we risk starving our immune cells of the nutrients they need. My advice: see sugar as a “treat”, something that should be reserved for special occasions only, and try to get your “sugar fix” from fruits which are packed with fiber and immune boosting vitamins.
While depriving yourself of guilty pleasures may seem undesirable, particularly while quarantining, take comfort in knowing that there are a lot of enjoyable things that you can do while indoors that can actually boost your immune system. And to find out, stay tuned for my next post.