Staying Healthy in an Uncertain Time
Mark Mercure, Pharmacist
Home Health Care Pharmacy
We are all making adjustments to our routines to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. We have the opportunity when making these new daily routines to incorporate practices which can strengthen our immune system. While current public health recommendations are the best way to protect ourselves from COVID-19, the benefits of a strong immune system can help protect us against illness and contagious disease at any time. Focus on these modifiable lifestyle factors which can have a large impact on supporting your immune function.
Due to the novelty of COVID-19, no peer-reviewed has been published regarding the effectiveness of any lifestyle treatment on its prevention or treatment.
Please remember that the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 is to follow Health Canada’s recommendations to
- Avoid all non-essential trips within your community
- Do not gather in groups
- Limit your contact with high risk persons, such as the elderly or those in poor health
- If you leave home, keep a distance of 2 meters from other people.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds
- Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Clean high-touch surfaces often
If we are already following these recommendations, what further measures can we take at home to further strengthen our own immune system against infection?
Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the best ways to help support your immune system. Focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Including a variety of these foods daily will provide your body with the phytonutrients it needs. Fibre is also important and often under-consumed in the Western diet. Substitute Black beans instead of jelly beans to increase your daily intake of dietary fibre. Probiotic-containing foods are an excellent choice to support immune function, while the foods most likely to harm immune function are those which cause excess inflammation in the body, so avoid added sugar and salt, processed carbohydrates, and excessive saturated fat.
Feeling stressed out (chronic stress) can leave your body more susceptible to infection by inhibiting the immune system. The good news is that stress reduction can work to reduce susceptibility. Reducing your stress at home may mean limiting your repeated exposure to negative or depressing news reports. As the weather seems destined to improve on the prairies soon, participating in an outdoor stress reduction activity like gardening can do wonders for stress reduction, and by extension, your immune system.
The restorative and regulatory effects of sleep are key to the major influence that it has on immune function. Both quality and quantity are important when it comes to sleep. Make sure to keep a regular bedtime and waketime and eliminate as much as possible anything that interferes with sleep. This includes ensuring a cool, dark, quiet setting, and cutting out pre-bedtime caffeine, alcohol, and back-lit screens from devices.
Regular physical activity will improve circulation, raise levels of antibodies, and decrease stress, which all adds up to a boon for the immune system. The activity doesn’t need to be intense, but making it a regular and sustainable habit will provide you with the most benefits in the long run. If your normal routine has been disrupted lately, think of it as an opportunity to make the walk around the block (at a distance from others) a part of your “new normal.” If you can’t get outside, perhaps climbing stairs, chair squats, or yoga poses would fit the needs of those stuck indoors.
The science linking healthy immune system function to having strong social connections is admittedly pretty weak. However, in a time where people are physically separated, we should be mindful to include routines which keep us connected to others in a meaningful way. With churches and hockey games not open for people to attend, there is a risk that mental health will suffer if people lose the connections with others that support their healthy lifestyles, which means increased stress and likely effects on physical health. Anything that you can do to reach out virtually or at a distance to those in your community will have positive effects on not only yourself but on those you interact with as well. Staying connected while separated is key for the health of our community.
Although these measures may help boost your immune system, they of course are not intended as proven effective prevention measures against COVID-19. While we all keep our distance and follow public health recommendations now, we also have a chance to focus on improving our immune system health by making lifestyle changes that stick with us in the future.
Mark Mercure is a Certified by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties in Geriatrics. He offers comprehensive medication reviews to help ensure that older adults are getting the most from their medications. He practices at Home Health Care Pharmacy in Brandon, MB.