Since March, at least, the U.S. has been grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. Most states initially shut down in some capacity, then started gradually reopening in phases. For example, according to Houston-based attorney Brian White, in May, Texas businesses started opening at 25% capacity.
Then, after a couple of weeks of that, with surging cases, the Texas governor started rolling back the reopening. Texas wasn’t alone—other states made similar moves, including Florida and Arizona. While cases do seem to be now dropping in those Sunbelt states, the coronavirus does appear to be here to stay.
Dr. Fauci speaking on behalf of the NIH and White House task force recently told Congress he doesn’t expect the virus ever to be completely eradicated. There is hope with the development of vaccines and therapeutics, but as is the case with some other viruses, they may still exist but in a more controlled way.
What does all this mean?
For many people, it means that while we wait out potential vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, we have to do our best to maintain our health. Of course, there’s no surefire way to avoid viral infection, but when you have better health overall, while your risk of infection may stay largely the same, your risk of severe complications from infection may go down.
The following are some ways that you can have a healthy, robust immune system and also facilitate better overall health.
Recognize the Signs of a Troubled Immune System
While we often use the phrase “strong immune system,” it can be a bit misleading. You want an immune system that functions properly, meaning it isn’t too weak nor does it go into overdrive. It may be more reflective of the reality of your immunity to describe a poorly functioning immune system as one that’s compromised.
If you recognize the signs of a compromised immune system, you may be able to make changes in your lifestyle and also speak with your health care provider about what you can do. For example, one sign that is very common but frequently goes unrecognized is digestive trouble. Our gut health is intrinsically linked to our immune health. In fact, around 70% of your immune system is in your digestive tract.
There are microorganisms and healthy bacteria in your immune system that protect you from infection. When you have low levels of healthy bacteria, it can cause autoimmune disorders where your immune system is too reactive, or you may be at risk of viruses.
Other signs of immune system issues include slow-healing wounds, frequent infections, and often feel tired and sluggish.
Eat a Healthy Diet
One of the most important things for your health, including your immune system, is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Cut as many processed and high-sugar foods out as you can.
Some of the foods to try and focus your diet on include:
- Bell peppers: Peppers have more vitamin C even than citrus fruits, and they’re a great source of beta carotene.
- Broccoli: Broccoli has antioxidants to fight inflammation and also vitamins like A, C, and E. There’s a high fiber content in broccoli which can be good for your digestive system.
- Garlic: Add garlic to as many foods and recipes as you can. It flavors it and also helps fight infections.
Other immune-boosting foods that you should eat regularly are spinach, yogurt, and the spice turmeric. Healthy fats such as what’s in salmon and olive oil can help reduce inflammation, and chronic inflammation may suppress the functionality of your immune system.
If you don’t think you can get enough of the vitamins and nutrients you need from your diet alone, speak with your health care provider about supplements.
So many of us are feeling stressed right now, but this can also impair your immune system’s function. You need to identify ways to handle and manage your stress.
Everyone’s going to do this differently, but ideas include doing things you enjoy like reading, listening to music or watching TV, and taking time for yourself. Exercise is also a potent stress-reliever. Rely on a support network when you need it.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is very deeply linked to your immunity and your body’s ability to fight illnesses. One of the biggest risk factors to susceptibility to sickness is poor quality sleep. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night as an adult. Teens need anywhere from 8 to 10 hours a night, and children may need as many as 14 hours a night.
If you have a hard time falling asleep, put your phone away several hours before you try to go to bed. You should also limit your screen time. The blue light from TVs, phones, and computers can disrupt your natural sleep-wake cycle. Some people even find that wearing blue-blocking goggles for several hours in the evening helps them fall asleep more easily.
Being hydrated isn’t a cure-all for illnesses, but what it does do is help your body perform the way it should. Dehydration can lead to problems with mood and focus, digestion, and even heart function. All of these factors can make you more susceptible to illness. Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids daily, and water is ideal because it doesn’t have added sugar and calories.
Finally, if you are going to consider supplements, do so wisely. Some supplement manufacturers may make claims that aren’t necessarily true, but there are certain vitamins and minerals you may be deficient in because of your diet or health that may be worth supplementing with.
Vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc are three examples. Vitamin C can help reduce the duration of mild illnesses like the cold. Vitamin D deficiency increases the chances of becoming sick, and zinc is also a supplement that may help reduce how long you’re sick for if you do get sick.
Of course, none of these are cures for any illness, but living well and focusing on your health is a good all-around choice.