By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
We all know that the main keys to a healthy body and mind are exercise and a varied diet. From food, we take the nutrients to ward off infection and strengthen our immune function. From exercise, our body increases blood flow and white blood cell movement to fight disease. More importantly, both provide us with the essential base on which to build a strengthened immune system in a healthy way.
The threat to the body has increased dramatically with COVID-19 now firmly a part of our daily lives. Buying the correct food to aid immune function and doing a considerate amount of exercise have become more difficult as lockdown continues. Many people are turning to alternative methods of boosting their immune systems, but few are sustainable or fully suited to everyone.
From tips on nutrition to exercise and better sleep, I explore how to strengthen the immune system the healthy way.
Let’s start with the basics of maintaining your body’s health. Factors such as smoking, drinking, and stress can all contribute to an unhealthy immune system and are linked to many diseases and issues with the function of the body. Drinking in moderation, reducing stress, and stopping smoking can have an immediate effect on the body and in the long term, help to reduce the risk of weakening the immune system.
One of the easiest and quickest ways to get started on your path to a healthy immune system is through diet. If you’re not on a specialized diet for weight loss, a well balanced and varied selection of food is the best place to start, using the food groups to help you choose meals:
Drinking six to eight glasses of water or sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, is also advised each day.
Once the basic food groups have been established, it’s easier to introduce immune-boosting foods to your diet. Foods high in vitamins C, B6, and E work to increase the productivity of your immune system and should be considered as additions to your meals.
Foods high in vitamin C include guava (raw), strawberries, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and mango. Similarly, great options for vegetables include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green and red peppers, and cabbage.
Other foods such as spinach, onion, potato (sweet and normal), and tomatoes are all high in vitamin C and make good additions to salads or main meals. If you’re looking for a quick boost of vitamin C, try blending fruits to make a smoothie or prepare cuts of fruit the night before so you can snack on the go.
Foods high in vitamin B6 include meat, fish, and potatoes. Of the meat and fish, chicken, turkey, pork, tuna, and salmon are thought to have the highest levels of vitamin B6. However, there are lots of equally excellent food sources to try: whole grain bread, eggs, whole grain cereals, and milk.
For alternatives (and to give your meal recipes a real workout), try adding avocado, chickpeas, ricotta cheese, or dried fruit.
Foods high in vitamin E include vegetable oils (sunflower, rice bran, soybean), nuts and seeds (particularly sunflower seeds, almonds, and peanuts), and leafy greens (such as spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens).
Alternatively, some fish products such as salmon and cod are a good source of the nutrient. Like vitamin C, fruits and vegetables are always a solid choice and contain a high percent of your required daily intake.
Reach for kiwifruit, blackberries, dried cranberries, raspberries, raw red pepper, broccoli, asparagus, and butternut squash for high levels of the vitamin.
Although the lockdown has made exercising harder, it’s given us an opportunity to devise new ways of exercising at home. Walking, running, and cycling are always good forms of exercise and also encourage us to complete exercise outside, which is a good well-being boost. While gyms are off-limits and outdoor workout areas are closed, we now look to our homes as our main space to exercise.
You don’t need expensive equipment to start exercising at home. There are lots of inexpensive equipment options such as the Lifeline Jungle Gym XT or alternative workout equipment for at-home fitness including using weighted goods. Using backpacks or bags for a dumbbell workout at home works equally well. Even better, there are many workouts which only require your body weight. Plank workouts or at-home squats are an easy option to incorporate into daily life.
HIIT workouts have become very popular in recent years and are a proven method of weight loss. The high-intensity interval training involves performing individual exercises for a set time in a circuit, increasing the time of each set dependent on your ability, requiring no specialist equipment, and suited to the home. Even better, the workouts take less time to complete than a standard routine and can be fit easily around your day.
Technology has fast become a go-to resource during lockdown both in our professional and personal lives. Using technology to its advantage is one of the best ways to increase your exercising ability. Workouts are now virtual and at our fingertips whenever we need them, with a whole community of trainers and teachers on hand. Use technology and virtual training platforms to transform your at-home workouts.
Sleep is imperative for a healthy body and mind, particularly because our bodies heal and recover during sleep. This includes our immune systems. While most adults require seven to nine hours of sleep each night, many experience interrupted sleep. This should be addressed so our bodies can work to the best of their ability and aid mental well-being.
You should ensure the room where you’re sleeping is at its optimum to aid sleep. Monitor your body temperature which may be affected by your room being too warm or too cold. Lighting changes such as early morning light shining in through ill-fitted blinds can be fixed with blackout blinds.
Using a sleep diary lets you monitor any changes to your sleep and makes it easier to make any adjustments for a better, restful night. Switching off technology and removing screens from your routine at least an hour before bed is one of the best ways of ensuring your body is ready for sleep.
Restricting your caffeine intake (which is a stimulant found in drinks like tea and coffee) at least an hour before going to bed will reduce your energy level and set you up for a more restful sleep.
Wanting to improve your overall health? Try incorporating some of these tips for a healthier mind, body, and immune system.