While many of us need to stay at home due to lock-down, or self-isolation due to vulnerability, it can become quite challenging to maintain a healthy lifestyle. On the other hand, it may be also a great opportunity to establish new healthy habits which we can not only improve our overall well-being but also contribute to a strong immune system. Here are some practical tips.
Everyone knows that sufficient sleep is important for our health. So why are many of us not getting enough sleep? Living in our busy schedules we often prioritise other things over sleep, and may even feel that we waste precious time when we sleep. However, science tells us a different story. While we sleep our body has the opportunity to regenerate and rejuvenate different body systems including our immune system. There is a link between shorter sleep duration and increased risk of infectious illness which means that not getting enough sleep may impact your body’s ability to fight off infections.
So how to make sure we get a good quality sleep?
- take care of your bedroom environment (it should be dark, cool and peaceful)
- relaxation practices prior to going to bed (meditation, gentle stretching, reading book, hot bath)
- no coffee after 2 p.m. and no heavy meals or alcohol before going to bed
Another important factor is the fact that at dark our body produces the sleep hormone (melatonin) which has been claimed to be the most potent antioxidant! It also reduced excessive inflammation and supports antiviral immunity. The best way to support melatonin production is anything that will support your day-night cycle (circadian rhythm):
- consistent sleep schedule (including weekends)
- avoid blue-light exposure in the evening (you may consider buying blue-light blocking glasses to make your life easier), blue-light is the strongest inhibitor of melatonin production
- expose yourself to sunlight, especially in the morning (eat your breakfast close to the window or go for a walk), make sure your body knows that it is a day time! In addition, since March/ April we are able to produce immune-boosting vitamin D when exposing ourselves to the sun, however, do to overdo it!
- cherry juice contains low levels of melatonin (maybe you can swap your evening glass of wine for it?)
Stress is not good for us, everyone knows that. While we are quite well equipped to deal with the short term acute stress, our body is not handling modern ‘tigers’ chasing us in forms of do-to-lists, endless job and personal commitments and now the uncertain global situation. At the moment, it is more important than ever to have the stress transforming practices. We all know somebody who has been under prolonged stress and was constantly catching different infections which lasted forever. This is partially due to the detrimental effect of the stress (physical or psychological) on our immune cells. While the short term stress can enhance our immune response (think of stepping on a nail, we need a good immune response to fight potential infection!), long-term worry and distress decrease our ability to fight infections. We may not be able to eliminate all the ‘stressors’ from our lives, including the current pandemic, but we may be able to change our response to stress by:
- practising meditation, start with 2 min a day and build it up! Studies showed that people practising meditation are more resilient to viruses.
- if initially, you find it difficult to meditate, try deep breathing, try to practice it on regular bases, you can try different techniques such as 7-4-8 breathing.
- you may also try other techniques to activate your vagus nerve which is a part of your ‘rest, digest and repair’ nervous system such as gargling with water, singing your favourite song out loud or humming.
- and remember, this is all individual, choose what suits you and relaxes you (maybe except video games or Netflix binge-watching!)
We all know that we should exercise. It is good for our cardiovascular system, metabolism, bones and hormones. But did you know that it may also help us to boost the immune system and lower inflammation? It also lowers cortisol (stress hormone), promotes better sleep and increases endorphin production (‘joy’ hormone) which will indirectly contribute to better immune response and makes your lungs healthier by increasing lung capacity and creating new blood vessels.
However, it is so important to notice that the benefits of exercise follow the ‘Bell curve’ which means that we have the biggest advantage from balanced exercise routine (not too much not to little).
While some people love going to the gym, some of us struggle to walk upstairs without getting breathless. That is why it is so important to individualise the exercise based on individual capacity. If you are exhausted next day following exercise probably you have ‘over’ exercised your body needs to regenerate. It is well established now, that regular moderate exercise routine is better for us than to be a ‘weekend warrior’. So how we can implement exercise while spending time at home:
- if you work from home think about standing desk (can be DIY!) or you may choose to switch your chair for an exercise ball
- instead of snacking on biscuits, practice ‘exercise snacking’, do some squats or push-ups every 2h, lay on the mat to stretch your back or do some yoga poses
- be creative, cooking, cleaning, gardening, organising things it all counts as exercise!
- do some exercise before meals, exercising before meals will improve your insulin sensitivity which means you will be able to respond to your meal in a healthier way!
- exercise does one more amazing thing, it mobilises and moves the lymph through the body. If you ever heard about the lymphatic system you will know that it plays a significant role in fighting infections and detoxifying our body; so practice any kind of movements, drink enough fluids, practice deep belly breathing or if you are brave enough try dry body brushing
- overall be gentle, do not overexercise and be careful not to sustain any injuries
I hope you found this post useful and there was some new information here!
Try to find what suits you, also consider activities that combine more than one beneficial effect like gardening (exercise, vitamin D production, stress reduction and exposure to soil microbes!), massage before bedtime (stress reduction, better sleep, and building a better relationship), or online yoga class (exercise, sense of community, stress reduction). And while you are spending more time at home remember to open windows as the air inside the house is more toxic than outdoor air.
It may be the perfect time to establish some new self-care rituals and then carry them with you when all of this is over!
If you have any tips that worked for you please leave a comment!
Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, et al. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection (MEPARI-2): A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018;13(6):e0197778.
Francois, M.E., Baldi, J.C., Manning, P.J. et al. ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia. 2014; 57, 1437–1445.
Silvestri M, Rossi GA. Melatonin: its possible role in the management of viral infections–a brief review. Ital J Pediatr. 2013;39:61.
Terra, Rodrigo, Silva, Sílvia Amaral Gonçalves da, Pinto, Verônica Salerno, & Dutra, Patrícia Maria Lourenço. Effect of exercise on immune system: response, adaptation and cell signaling. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte, 2012;18(3), 208-214.