In early 2020 we started hearing about a new virus that was beginning to spread in the Wuhan region of China, known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus. This virus is from a family of coronaviruses that also include SARS and MERS. The virus has symptoms such as cough, fever and breathing difficulties. Some could experience more severe symptoms such as pneumonia, kidney failure and even death. It is thought to be spread the same way as the flu.
Even without an unpredicatble new virus such as COVID-19, yearly strains of the flu can be dangerous to some. For those who are relatively healthy, it can certainly knock you out of commission for a week or more. But for the very young, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions it can be much worse.
The good news is that there are things that you can do to strengthen your immune system so that it can more easily fight off viral invaders. That can help you to stay healthy!
What can you do to help prevent or minimize viruses?
First, don’t panic and stop worrying! Worry isn’t going to help you avoid getting sick. Stressing over getting sick will actually help to make you more susceptible to viruses. Stress lowers your immune system function. And a lowered immune system can leave you struggling to fight off viral invaders.
There are of course, some basic recommendations by the CDC on things you can do to help prevent viruses like the coronavirus and influenza. Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes when possible. If you have to cough, use a tissue and then throw it away immediately. You can read more about their recommendations here.
What if you’re already doing everything that the CDC recommends? But you want to do even more to help your immune system in case you do encounter a nasty virus. There are things you can do that actually boost your immune system simply…and that are natural as well!
Things that boost immune system function
Getting plenty of sleep
Studies have shown that sleep has a positive effect on immune system function. Sleep is also known to promote healing in the body. But in this day and age, people wear their lack of sleep like a badge of honor. We promote and often celebrate burning the candle at both ends and being busy all the time. And many forego a full night sleep in the name of “getting things done”. Unfortunately, that mindset is wrong. Not only does sleep deprivation reduce immune system function, but it also increases stress. That can cause you to be much less productive. For most adults, 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night is optimal. Getting less than that regularly will begin to negatively impact not only your immune system, but your health.
Many people underestimate the power of exercise to help ward off viruses. Studies have shown that getting regular moderate levels of exercise can help to boost your immune system. But the same does not apply to intense exercise such as marathon running. High intensity, prolonged exercise has been show to reduce immune system function for extended periods following exercise. So exercising longer and harder actually increases your inability to fight off infection. It’s best to stick get 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to help keep immune function optimal.
I’ve already mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. Stress lowers your immune system…period! I’ve spent many years involved with my local theatre as both a performer and music director. It never fails that the cast starts getting sick a few weeks before the show opens. Long nights and weekends of rehearsals, lack of sleep, bad eating and increased stress always lead to a wave of colds and flu going through the cast. How stressed are you right now? If you have too much on your plate and stress is high, it’s best to make stress management and self-care a priority to avoid getting sick!
What you eat does have an impact on immune function. Diets filled with sugar, artificial sweeteners, fast food, refined oils, preservatives and artifical colors and flavors all create stress on the body which can lower immune system function. If you want to support your immune system, choose whole, real foods instead! Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains (if tolerated), pasture raised meats, eggs and dairy (in moderation), wild caught seafood and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil can help to boost immune function and help you fight viruses and infections. Also, skip alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine which can further lower your immune system. Instead, opt for herbal teas, green tea and water. Fermented foods and beverages also help to improve gut health which contributes to immune strength.
Some of the most powerful foods that help prevent viruses include:
- Citrus fruits
- Red bell peppers
- Kefir and kombucha
- Green tea
- Sweet potatoes
- Sunflower seeds
Get in touch with the Earth
Earthing has been happening since humans first walked the planet. Until recently humans regularly had time when their skin touched the earth. They slept on the ground, wore natural shoes and regularly put their hands in the dirt and grass. But with the advent of synthetic soled shoes and living removed from the earth, that connection has been significantly reduced. There is a growing amount of scientific evidence showing that walking barefoot on the earth can have some pretty great health benefits. Earthing regularly has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep, reduce inflammation and boost immune cells….all important parts of keeping your immune system healthy! The best way to earth is to go in your yard, take of your shoes and put your feet against the dirt or grass. But for many that isn’t an option. The good news is that there are now products that you can find that can help you get the benefits of earthing right in your home or office. A quick search on Google or Amazon will help you to find the right product for you!
How often do you laugh? Many adults take themselves way too seriously! But laughing frequently is good for your health! Laughing regularly is a great way to reduce stress. And studies have now shown that laughter may also help to improve your immune system function so that you can fight off viruses! Looking at funny memes and watching funny videos may actually keep you from getting sick! And it’s the most fun way to stay healthy too!
Supporting your body’s naturally immune function, doesn’t need to be difficult. Make your health and caring for yourself a priority when viruses are running rampant. That’ll help you to stay healthy and avoid the complications caused by both new and old viruses.