Staying Healthy During the Pandemic
Living under the constant stress of the pandemic, day in and out, causes the body to produce too much cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time, elevated cortisol lowers your resistance to fighting off infection and contributes to poor sleep and higher blood pressure. But never fear, you can help protect yourself from stress and bolster your immune system with a few lifestyle tweaks!
Eat a plant-based, heart healthy diet
Plants are chock-full of nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins which all go towards improving our health, strengthening our immune system and reducing inflammation! Inflammation is the driver of all diseases, and does double damage to our brain because it lacks the capacity to deal with inflammation. This causes consequences such as memory blips and foggy thinking.
Fruits, vegetables and other plants contain naturally occurring substances known as phytochemicals, which give fruits and vegetables their color and flavor. Phytochemicals act as soldiers in the immune system to protect the body from damage.
The easiest way to eat plant-based is by adopting the Mediterranean diet as your preferred way of eating. Eating plant-based does not mean you can’t eat meat; it means your meals are mostly plants: vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans, seeds and nuts. Fill two-thirds of your plate with these plant-based foods. The remaining one-third should be a lean protein like chicken or fish, or a plant protein like tofu or beans. Limit sugary desserts as well and make sure you are picking whole grains. (Regular pasta, white bread and white rice may be plant products, but they are not made from whole grains.)
Not only does exercise increase your resilience so you can fight off infection, it also helps improve your mood and relieve stress.
In the short term, exercise can help the immune system find and deal with pathogens, and in the long term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen to the immune system with ageing, therefore reducing the risk of infections.
The National Institutes of Health recommends 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Even with the gyms being closed, you can still put together a fantastic workout! High intensity interval training (HIIT) alternates short periods of intensive anaerobic exercise with less intense periods of rest in order to elevate your heart rate into a high intensity zone, before giving you some time to recover, so that you can begin the cycle again. A short 15- to 20-minute HIIT workout can be as beneficial to you as jogging on the treadmill for an hour. Additionally, one of the beauties of HIIT is that you don’t need equipment to do it. If you’ve got limited time, or can’t get to the gym, you can get a great HIIT workout in the comfort of your own home. Body weight exercises such as mountain climbers, squats or plyometric exercises are all good ways of raising your heart rate and ensuring you get the most from your workout.
Yep, lack of sleep can affect your immune system. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick, and lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. Aim for 7 to 8 hours or more of sleep every night.
Get some sun
Spending some time in natural light, especially early morning sunlight, is a great way for our bodies to manufacture vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in helping our immune systems produce antibodies. Low levels of vitamin D, on the other hand, have been correlated with a higher risk of respiratory infection. If you’re unable to spend time outdoors, the Institute of Medicine recommends a daily intake of 600 International Units (IU) of Vitamin D for people under 70 years old, and 800 IU daily for those older. The upper limit—the levels above which health risks are thought to increase—was set at 4,000 IU per day for adults.
When you’re isolated and inundated with scary or unsettling information all day, it can be easy to start to panic. Don’t! Unplug, find a quiet space, close your eyes, and just take a few deep breaths. Not sure how to start? There are so many meditation and breathing apps that can help, such as Headspace and Calm. If you don’t want to pay for an app, YouTube has all types of meditations… one of my favorites is the Loving Kindness Meditation, which never fails to make me feel better.
A daily routine that involves intentional positive choices regarding sleep, eating and exercise is foundational to our health and healing.