If you’re like me, you’re a little nervous to go back into normal society (once we are back to normal, which might take some time). Why? Because social distancing and thoroughly cleansing everything in our homes has most likely weakened our immune systems. Not to fret, our immune systems will bounce back. Here are some easy and helpful actions to take to help naturally boost your immune system:
1. Sleep – getting enough sleep will strengthen your immune system. As you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Some of these cytokines help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you are under stress. Being sleep deprived will decrease the amount of cytokine proteins that are released, ultimately weakening your immunity. Lack of sleep can also increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. What?!?! I know! I didn’t know this until I started researching sleep. On average, an adult should have 7 -8 good hours of sleep. Personally, I need 10 hours of sleep. I wake up often in the middle of the night, so 10 hours makes up for the time that I have to go back to bed and enter back into my Non-REM cycle. REM sleep stands for Rapid Eye Movement. According to Web MD, your body goes through a cycle of REM sleep and Non-REM sleep constantly while you are sleeping. There are basically three stages. 1. Your eyes are closed but it is easy to wake you up. This usually lasts about 5-10 minutes. 2. A light sleep. This is the phase when your heart rate starts to slow down and your body temperature drops. Your body is preparing itself for deep sleep. 3. Deep Sleep. It’s harder to wake someone out of deep sleep. It is during this sleep where your body goes into repair mode. Your body repairs and regrows tissues, builds bone and muscle, and strengthens the immune system. But wait for it, you are in Non-REM (or your deepest sleep) only about 20% of your night’s sleep. Crazy! Then, there is REM Sleep. REM sleep is the majority of your sleep at night. It happens 90 minutes after you have fallen asleep, usually. REM sleep happens in stages as you sleep. Each stage lasts longer and longer (starting at the 10 minute mark and the final one may last up to an hour). Your heart rate and breath quickens during this stage. It’s also where you have the most dreams because your brain is extremely active during REM sleep. Plus you have all that oxygen from your quickened breath.
2. Healthy Balance of Exercise – Exercise, especially high intensity exercise, taxes your body and depletes your immune system every time you workout. This is natural and ultimately makes you a stronger and healthier person. However, during a pandemic, make sure you are getting plenty of rest and recovery in. Don’t continually tax your body too much or you might find yourself with a sore throat and no energy for two weeks (this happened to me during quarantine). Don’t worry, the gains you made will come back. Focus on your recovery, make sure you eat ample amounts of protein to sustain your muscle composition, and have a higher amounts of protein in your diet than carbohydrates.
3. Whole Plant Foods – Nutrient dense plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are filled with powerful antioxidants that can help you fight harmful pathogens (bacteria, virus or other microorganisms that cause disease). Antioxidants help decrease inflammation in the body by fighting off free radicals in the body. These free radicals can cause a lot of inflammation when they build up in your body at high levels. So it’s important that our bodies have the tools to fight these compounds off. I recently found out that, chronic inflammation in the body is linked to cases of certain cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. In addition, plant foods help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. A plentiful and robust gut flora can improve your immunity and can help prevent harmful pathogens entering the body through the digestive track.
4. Eat Healthy Fats – There are some healthy fats that the body does not produce, so we must consume foods that contain these essential oils, i.e. omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Healthy fats such as those containing omega 3’s and 6’s help your body fight off pathogens by decreasing inflammation in the body. Low inflammation is natural due to stress and injury. However, as we now know, high levels of inflammation can suppress the immune system. So add in those avocados, nuts, and flaxseed oils to your diet.
5. Limit Added Refined Sugars – Refined sugars (white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup etc.) break down your immune system. How? It “deactivates” the immune system cells that fight off bacteria. This affect lasts a few hours after drinking a couple of sugary drinks (i.e. soda, monster, etc.) or having sweets like cake, pie, candy, and tarts.