Regularly practicing good habits, precautions, and hygiene is essential to avoid getting sick, whether it’s coronavirus, a cold, or the flu. Let’s dig into 11 ways you can protect your immune system and habits you can incorporate today, in or out of your home.
11 Ways to Protect Your Immunity
1. Practice good hand washing hygiene.
Hand washing after touching surfaces may be the most powerful immunity booster that you can easily incorporate. Common touch points outside of the home include:
- Self-checkout kiosks at stores
- Armrests on chairs in waiting rooms
- Hand rails on escalators, stairs, and trains
- Gas station pumps, credit card touch screens and buttons.
Pro tip: Hand sanitizer is not a substitute for washing your hands; hand sanitizer has been shown to be less effective than soap and water. However, carrying sanitizer or sanitizing wipes can be useful in situations where hand washing is not an option. The CDC recommends the hand sanitizer has contains at least 60% alcohol, and to Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
2. Clean and disinfect personal and work items regularly.
Your everyday/weekly items will come in contact with other contaminated surfaces and countertops. Studies have shown that the flu can live on hard surfaces for up to 2 days and the coronavirus may last for up to 3 days.
Make sure you are sanitizing any hard surfaces that you and your things regularly come in contact with. These include, but are not limited to:
- Personal items: Phones and tablets, keys, wallets. re-usable water bottles, and eye and sun glasses, lunch boxes, bags
- Work items: Laptop, mouse, keyboards, earbuds, headphones, and handheld electronic devices
- Car: Steering wheels, buttons, stereo knobs, handles, and mirrors
- Home items: Remote controls, refrigerator doors and handles, umbrellas
- Out and about: Desks and countertops, doorknobs, and light switches
Get in the habit of cleaning your devices – front and back – with an alcohol-based wipe.
Choose bags you can wipe down with sanitizing wipes (materials like vinyl or leather are much easier to disinfect than cloth).
Pro tip: Try to wash your hands after using your phone, especially if you’re going to eat a meal or snack.
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Germs have to find a way inside before they can start wreaking havoc on the body. We touch such openings on our faces many times per day, so what we do with our hands significantly impacts our immunity.
Pro tip: Simply being mindful of which hands are doing what can help you lessen your chance of picking up germs between hand washings and device cleanings. One strategy could be to assign one hand for doing everyday tasks (i.e. opening doors, pushing buttons, putting change in the parking meter). This leaves the other for the personal side of things, like the unconscious nose scratch.
4. Drink more water.
“Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water (you want very light colored urine),” says WellnessFX Practitioner, Lori Brizee MS, RD, LD. Water consumption is an important part of overall health – your body depends on it. It’s instrumental in healthy organ function, naturally improves digestion to help break down foods, and softens stools, which helps prevent constipation.
It may take a moment to pick up the habit, but what you’re doing is creating the opportunity to drink more water. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t exist.
5. Limit or skip the sugar and processed foods/drinks
It’s tempting to opt for convenience during a work day by grabbing crackers, muffins, or other packaged products. Unfortunately, these items typically contain high amounts of processed sugar.
WellnessFX practitioners Karen Graham and Dr. Ross Pelton both warn that a moderate dose of sugar suppresses the immune system for 5 to 6 hours, lowering the body’s ability to fight infection.
Pro tip: Sugar is most popularly known to lead to insulin resistance, weight gain in the body, and contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also results in inflammation. Read up on these 5 steps to reduce sugar in your daily diet.
6. Incorporate more fresh, whole foods into mealtimes and snacks
It’s highly recommended to get your micronutrients from eating whole, fresh foods, because of the greater nutritional value, fiber, and phytochemicals, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Micronutrient-dense foods support your immune system, because they contain important vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Magnesium, which plays an important role in mitochondrial function. Involved in many biochemical reactions in the body, helping maintain normal heart rhythm, immune system, and muscle function. Low magnesium levels are linked with a variety of conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis, and poorly controlled diabetes. Foods that contain magnesium are dark, leafy greens like spinach and swiss chard, nuts and seeds, mackerel, and lima beans.
- Vitamin D, which controls the expression of over 1,000 genes in the body, and is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and immune system problems. Foods that have this fat-soluble vitamin include eggs, fatty fish such as sockeye salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and fortified dairy, such as milk and yogurt.
- Vitamin A is a nutrient important to vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity. It can be found in foods like spinach, carrots, and cantaloupe.
- Vitamin C, which is needed by the body to form collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels. Foods that have the highest amount of vitamin C are bell peppers, guavas, dark and leafy green vegetables, kiwi, and broccoli, to name a few.
- Zinc, which has antioxidant properties and plays an essential role in the immune system. It also helps regulate appetite, stress level, and sense of taste and smell. Foods high in zinc include beef and lamb, liver, spinach, pumpkin and squash seeds, pork, and chicken.
Eating fiber – found in fruits and vegetables like the ones listed above – keeps digestion moving.
Pro tip: Read here for 7 simple lunchtime swaps that get more fruits & veggies into your day.
7. Prioritize your sleep.
Make a concerted effort to use rest as a primary defense tactic against colds.
Power down pre-bedtime by limiting your phone/laptop/TV/social media use, to prepare your body for sleep. Factor sleep into your schedule and don’t be afraid to bow out of activities just a little earlier to get much-needed slumber.
Pro Tip: If you’re tired all the time or suffering from poor quality sleep, check out 4 reasons that could explain why.
8. Limit or reduce your alcohol intake
There are a few reasons limiting alcohol intake can help your immune system.
- The average cocktail with juices and mixers is high in sugar. We know from above (Tip 5!) that sugar suppresses the immune system 5-6 hours.
- Alcohol lacks the micronutrients that make your immune system strong and can have adverse immune-related health effects. Susceptibility to pneumonia is one of them among the list.
- Alcohol disrupts sleep. Negatively impacting the quality of your sleep will prevent much needed rest your body needs to defend against colds.
- Alcohol is dehydrating. Don’t prevent your body from getting the fluids it needs for healthy organ function and digestion.
Pro tip: Swap out a beer or two for sparkling water and lime, or introduce a flavored seltzer to your fridge stocking routine.
9. Manage your stress.
Cortisol is commonly referred to as the “stress hormone.”
While a little spike of cortisol is good – and natural – in response to short-term stressors, it starts to become a problem when the body starts making too much, too often, including a lower immune response.
Getting adequate sleep and avoid caffeinated products can help lower cortisol levels. You can work to further decrease any holiday stressors, and increase relaxation, with practices such as meditation in the morning, when cortisol levels are highest.
Don’t underestimate the power of a moment alone. Taking 10 minutes to yourself can help hit the “reset” on all the troubles of the day. Check out 6 Ways Busy People Who Have No Time Can Unwind & Relax.
10. Fit in exercise where you can.
Every little bit helps, whether it’s an outdoor hike or walking laps inside your apartment complex.
WellnessFX Medical Director, Dr. Khaleghi, details in his book The Everything Guide to Boosting Your Immunity that “the single most effective thing you can do for your immune system is engage in various types of regular exercise. This stimulates expression of various immune factors and can substantially decrease your risk of all types of infections.”
In some ways, short, intense workouts can be more beneficial than longer ones. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), for example, is a strategy of alternating high-intensity with low-intensity.
A 10 to 20-minute workout can feel as taxing as a whole hour – and as beneficial, too. The short, intense workouts of HIIT provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning.
11. Consider supplementing probiotics
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that exist naturally in your gut – the live bacteria and yeasts aka “the good” microorganisms.
Dr. Khaleghi also mentions in his book that “the supplement gaining the most popularity for increasing your immune defense is probiotics, which is increasingly supported in the literature and people’s experiences. These bacteria stimulate the lymphoid (immune tissue) in your gut, where actually a majority of this immune tissue resides in your body.”
From our friends at Onegevity, “Since probiotic health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options and to be sure supplementing is right for you.”
Some common strains of probiotics associated with gut health include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus: The most well known probiotic and one of the most important for the health of the small intestine. Acidophilus inhibits pathogens, and produces such natural antibiotics as lactocidin and acidophilin, which enhance immunity.
- Bifidobacteria bifidum: Prevents pathogenic bacteria and yeast from invading. In addition, this species increase absorption of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
- Streptococcus thermophilus: Used to make yogurt. Breaking down lactose to create lactase, the enzyme that digests milk sugars, this species can help with lactose intolerance. Other Streptococcus strains: Cremoris, faecium and infantis.
- Enterococcus faecium: Has shown in studies to be helpful for diarrhea, shortening duration of symptoms. It kills pathogenic microbes, such as rotavirus. Studies have also shown this strain to lower LDL or bad cholesterol. This organism is very resistant to antibiotics.
Pro tip: For more on gut health, check out 4 Steps to a Healthier Gut, and Why It’s So Important.
For more tips on how to keep homes, schools, and workplaces safe from coronavirus, be sure to check out this tip sheet from the CDC.
How WellnessFX Can Help
Regular blood screening is crucial for understanding your hormones, tracking progress, and measuring your associated risk, to hopefully stop a problem before it becomes a problem. Some markers of immunity you can track include your:
- White blood cell count
- hs-CRP, a marker of inflammation (which impairs the immune system)
- Vitamin D, a core regulator of the immune system
- Micronutrients, such as Folate, Magnesium, and B12.
Once you have the information, you can make educated, informed choices that fit your body’s specific and unique needs, from nutrition and lifestyle changes to hormone and risk monitoring.
The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.