Boosting Your Immune System During Coronavirus Pandemic
During an outbreak like the coronavirus, it’s critical to keep our immune systems as strong as we can. Because our health needs change as we age, we may develop conditions in later years that call for medication or other forms of treatment. These conditions and treatments may increase vulnerability to bacteria and viruses, but there are things we can do to present our strongest front. Here are seven easy ways that may help boost immunity during the coronavirus outbreak and all year round. Note that this is not meant to replace or offer medical advice, and we encourage everyone to consult your doctor on how best to boost your immunity.
Wash your hands—and don’t forget to moisturize
Washing hands thoroughly and often, especially when in contact with food and after sneezing and coughing, can help prevent the spread of disease-causing germs. We all know the CDC’s rule by now: lather hands with soap and scrub (with no water) for at least 20 seconds before rinsing with clean water. (Using a 60% percent–alcohol hand sanitizer is the second-best option when handwashing isn’t possible.) But did you know that moisturizing is also important?
The skin is the body’s first line of defense, and over washing it can strip the top layer and lead to cracking and bleeding (especially in dry climates). As well as being painful, cracks and bleeding give bacteria a direct entryway to the body. Using a non-greasy, fragrance-free hand cream and following other protective measures, like wearing gloves to protect against harsh chemicals, can help protect your hands.
Eat healthy foods
A healthy diet helps the body work at its best, but that’s not the only reason it’s important. The National Institute of Health states that quality of nutrition is a powerful contributing factor to the strength of our immune system and response. And Harvard Medical School reports on a connection between nutrition and senior immunity, as seniors are more likely to be deficient in micronutrients like zinc, copper, and vitamins.
Eating clean, vitamin-rich foods and avoiding alcohol, fried foods, and sugar can help increase a healthy immune response. It’s also important to eat for the body’s changing nutritional needs to avoid becoming deficient in critical nutrients.
Make hydration a habit
It’s well-known that staying hydrated helps the body eliminate toxins, including byproducts of illness. But as we age, our thirst receptors lose sensitivity, which means we can become dehydrated before we recognize it. We can combat this by eating foods high in water content and drinking plenty of water. It’s recommended to drink at least 64–72 ounces a day. How much more water you need may depend on your diet, activity level, medical conditions, and surrounding climate.
Get enough quality sleep
The duration and quality of our sleep can affect our ability to fight off illness. In 2016, the CDC set seven hours as a healthy sleep duration for adults. And in a 2019 study, German researchers found that sound sleep can strengthen the functioning of T cells, the immune cells that destroy pathogens like viruses and cancer.
If you’re having trouble sleeping or not able to sleep deeply, there are some easy and low-cost actions that may help. Drinking a nighttime tea, turning off screens and bright lights an hour before bed, , or wearing a sleep mask can all have a calming effect and help the body relax. Regular exercise has also been shown to benefit sleep.
Especially during this time of outbreak and quarantining, we all may be experiencing higher levels of anxiety, worry, and stress. Our bodies respond to stress and emergencies by raising the levels of cortisol in the blood, which decreases the number of lymphocytes—the white blood cells that fight infections—putting us at greater risk for viral infections. Sustained over time, higher stress levels can also contribute to depression and increased inflammation in the body, which can overwork and suppress the immune system. And high stress levels can also affect sleep quality, doubling the potential for a reduced immune response.
So how do we help ourselves manage stress, especially now? It may help to limit your news intake to either a certain amount of time or time of day. Seek outentertainment that will help you laugh. Schedule time to connect with family and friends over the phone. If yoga books or videos are available to you, the movement, stretching, and breath work has been shown to reduce stress, even for a few minutes a day. And whether you call it meditation, prayer, or just sitting quietly, taking 10–15 minutes a day to be still and breathe deeply can help the body reduce the stress response.
As with a nourishing diet, consistent exercise is an important way to keep ourselves in good health. And because it can promote good circulation, our immune cells and responses can move through the body more efficiently. But additionally, exercises for core strength, balance, and cardiovascular health all contribute to health stability and improved energy levels—results that benefit everyone.
Walking, exercises with hand weights, and stretching are all ways to help ourselves stay healthy. These explained stationary exercises can be done at home with common household props. Please consult your doctor regarding exercises that may be safe for you to do at home.
Stay connected to others
Feeling connected to a support network of friends and family may have more health impact than you think. In a 2017 study of younger populations, loneliness predicted self-reported cold symptoms more than social network size and diversity. With seniors more at risk for loneliness, its negative health effects may elevate their susceptibility to viral illnesses, infections, and health complications.
Especially during this time, make an active effort to connect with your closest family and friends every day. Familiar voices and faces can instill a stronger sense of connection, but texts or emails can also help. And it helps to keep the conversation positive by laughing and sharing good memories.