With so much fear and confusion all around regarding the coronavirus pandemic, chances are that you are filled with anxiety about your health and safety as well as that of your loved ones. But stress won’t help. There is a reason to be cautious, but there is no need to freak out. If anything, panicking can only increase your risk of infection by lowering your body’s immunity.
Right now, there is no vaccine for COVID-19, although scientists and researchers are at work. But regardless of a vaccine, the best way to stay protected from the coronavirus—or any other disease-causing microbe for that matter—is to possess a strong immune system, which is nothing but your body’s intrinsic intelligence.
The good news is that you can strengthen your immune system by inculcating a few simple lifestyle habits.
5 healthy habits to build immunity
The five lifestyle habits listed below will protect you not only from disease-causing microbes such as coronavirus but will also help you reduce the risk of many other illnesses such as heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.
1. Hydrate (but not with colas!)
Did you know that having just two tablespoons of refined white sugar temporarily lowers your immune system? And a can of Coke contains as much as eight tablespoons of sugar. Your immune system will thank you for eliminating soft drinks from your diet.
But don’t just stop at that. You need to hydrate yourself and what better way to do that than zero-calorie water? The list of benefits of drinking water is long. Here are a few ways water helps keep your immune system in good shape:
- Water helps carry oxygen throughout the body — to organs, tissues, and blood cells. It pumps up bodily functions to full capacity making you feel and perform better physically.
- Water promotes adaptive immune response. It does so by helping your kidneys get rid of toxic foreign invaders from the body. Water also prevents toxin build-up which, in turn, boosts immune function.
- Water pushes bodily waste into the lymph nodes where lymphocytes destroy them, keeping them from impairing the immune function and causing life-threatening conditions.
So stay hydrated with water. Proactively incorporate the habit of keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Three delicious drinks to improve your immunity with water
- Lemonade: Vitamin-C helps boost immunity, fights infection and aids digestion
- Black tea, freshly brewed: Tannins and alkylamines in tea help fight infection
- Honey Water: Honey has antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
About two-third of your body is oxygen. Oxygenated cells imply that your muscles and organs are working efficiently which, in turn, translates into superior immunity. Due to lack of sufficient oxygen, your lungs could be functioning sub-optimally making you more prone to infections. In fact, COVID-19 is known to affect your lungs. Your lungs bear the brunt of poor levels of oxygen, which is why respiratory infections including common cold, frequent headaches, itchy throat and symptoms of flu, are more common among young, urban professionals and people who are mostly indoors.
Here’s how fresh air keeps your immune system healthy:
- Fresh air helps your lung’s airways to dilate, releasing airborne toxins from your system
- The white blood cells that fight bacteria and other foreign invaders in your body need oxygen to function effectively; no wonder being in open spaces strengthens your immunity
- Oxygen is antiviral in nature; oxygen in blood helps reduce viral proliferation.
Easy ways to improve oxygen intake
- Open doors: Open windows, doors and let in sunlight and fresh air as often you can
- Take regular breaks at work: Allow yourself a few minutes of fresh air during work hours
- Do deep diaphragmatic breathing: By helping your lungs to expand, it maximises your oxygen inhalation. It also switches off the fight/flight response and activates your body’s rest and repair mechanism for healing and recovery
- Incorporate Pranayama in your daily schedule: It helps reduce stress and anxiety, which boosts the immune system
- Place indoor and outdoor plants: Having plants in your home and workplace helps purify air
“A body in motion shall keep moving longer
A body at rest shall rest in peace faster.”
Regular physical movement is key to good health. Just like healthy eating, exercise contributes to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system.
Here are three ways how exercising can strengthen your immunity:
- Regular moderate exercise reduces the risk of infections as compared to a sedentary lifestyle
- Physical movement promotes good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
- Moderate physical activity helps flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways (beneficial for COVID-19). This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
4 ways to get sufficient exercise
- Yoga: Try Surya Namaskar — it is a great way to move your entire body and has many proven health benefits
- Walking or Running: Walking and running are among the best forms of cardio workout
- Home Workout: Without stepping out of your home, you could do skipping, trampoline jumping, and Tabata
- Resistance: Push ups, pull ups, squats, burpees, jumping jacks are great ways to use your body weight to strengthen your muscles and your immunity.
What you eat decides whether you’re feeding the virus or your immune system. Food influences as much 70% of your immune system.
Checklist of dietary changes for boosting immunity
- Eliminate: All types of processed food including meat, refined oils and dairy. Frozen and ready-to-cook foods are a strict no-no
- Consume moderately: Fresh meat (cooked with bone), whole eggs, fresh curd and cow milk, healthy fats like ghee, coconut oil, olive oil and other healthy cold pressed oils. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, get good quality oils and protein from vegetable sources like nuts and seeds
- Eat more: Fresh fruits and vegetables, sprouts, lentils and other veggies
- Vitamin D3: Check your Vitamin-D3 levels for better immunity
- Pre & Probiotic for Gut Health: Gut health is vital for a healthy immune system. Add foods rich in probiotics: rice kanji, fermented vegetables, homemade pickles, good quality yogurt. Also include prebiotics such as garlic, banana, apple cider vinegar, apples.
- Include immune boosting foods: Ghee, cold pressed coconut oil, turmeric and black pepper combination, amla, garlic, ginger, onions, citrus fruits, dates, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, cucumber, carrot, capsicum, celery, jowar, masoor and chana dal.
- Eat home cooked food: Commercially prepared food contains many ingredients that can weaken your immunity
Your body, and especially your brain, needs a good night’s sleep for healing and repair. Sleep is the elixir for our wellbeing because it is considered as an important modulator of our immune system.
Did you know? Sleeping less than five hours a day reduces your immunity by as much as 70%. Water, oxygen, exercise or good food are necessary but cannot compensate for the lack of sufficient sleep.
Fact: World Health Organization (WHO) regards working night shifts as a probable carcinogen (cancer causing) because it disrupts the body’s Circadian Rhythm.
Key points to remember about sleeping enough
- Regularity: One cannot over-emphasise the importance of a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is greatly beneficial to your wellbeing
- Sleep Hygiene: Avoid looking at screens at least two hours prior to sleep; also avoid bright lights as your sleeping time approaches—use dim yellow light instead
- Dinner gap: Maintain a gap of two or more hours between your last meal and going to bed
- Duration: Most people need 7 – 8 hours of sleep to be refreshed; get a minimum of six hours
- Calm the mind: Prepare your mind to relax before sleeping; try some gratitude exercises or a sleep meditation
- Environment: Make sure your room is cool, dark and comfortable
Remember, the best way to deal with the current crisis is to stay calm but cautious.
If you have COVID-19 or suspect that you do, but have mild symptoms, including mild fever, cough or sore throat, you should self-quarantine right away. Those with more serious symptoms, such as high fever, chills, weakness, lethargy or shortness of breath, headaches should seek medical care immediately. It is imperative that you seek medical attention if the symptoms persist or worsen beyond 7 to 10 days.
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