With all the news surrounding COVID-19, it seems like there’s never been a more apt time to tune into our health and wellbeing. Maintaining a healthy immune system is key in boosting our defenses against bacteria and viruses. In addition to following the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, we’ve covered some tips and tricks to help you stay healthy at home.
Nutrition – Eat for Health
Remember that age-old saying, you are what you eat? There’s some truth to it! Roughly 70% of our immune system is housed in our gut, so nutrition plays a critical role in our overall health and wellbeing. The vitamins and minerals particularly essential for immunocompetence include A, B2, B6, B12, C, D, E, folic acid, selenium, iron, and zinc. A few food sources of each include:
Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, spinach, kale, bell peppers, mangoes
Vitamin C: citrus fruits (e.g. oranges and grapefruit), cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli and brussels sprouts), bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes
Vitamin D: fortified dairy products, fortified cereals, and grains, fatty fish (e.g. salmon and tuna)
Vitamin E: nuts, seeds, vegetable oils
Vitamin B2: eggs, organ meats (e.g. beef liver), dairy products, green vegetables (e.g. asparagus and broccoli), fortified cereals and whole grains
Vitamin B6: meat, poultry, fish, legumes (e.g. chickpeas), tofu/soy products, bananas
Vitamin B12: meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, fortified soymilk, fortified cereals, and grains
Folic Acid: green vegetables (e.g. asparagus and spinach), legumes (e.g. beans and peas), organ meats, (e.g. chicken liver), nuts, seeds
Iron: red meat, poultry, shellfish, fortified cereals and whole grains, legumes (e.g. beans and lentils), spinach, dark chocolate
Selenium: nuts, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, mushrooms
Zinc: shellfish, meat, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds, fortified cereals, and whole grains
Physical Activity – Keep Moving
A strong immune system needs a strong body! Exercise circulates white blood cells (the immune cells) in the body to defend us against infection, destroy any invaders that snuck in inconspicuously, and decrease inflammation. Be mindful not to overdo it though! Over-exercising has been linked to increased inflammation, muscle damage, and illness. The key is to exercise at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity for 30-60 minutes a day. Some tips for staying active at home include:
• Start walking, jogging, biking, or hiking outside. Responsibly enjoying physical activity outdoors and getting fresh air is important for preserving mental health. Bonus: Maintain motivation by challenging yourself or your coworkers to a Walker Tracker challenge!
• Transition your training at home. No weights? No problem! Get creative with household items like soup cans or opt for an entire bodyweight workout. Using lighter or no weight is a great opportunity to play with a routine that has higher reps (e.g. 15-20) and fewer sets (e.g. 2-3).
• Join virtual classes. Many gyms and studios that temporarily closed have introduced free or low-cost online classes. Check out a few free resources here that’ll help you stay active.
Stress – Manage Your Mindset
‘Worried sick’ isn’t just an expression! Prolonged stress and anxiety weaken the system by increasing our stress hormone, cortisol, and decreasing our white blood cells (those immune cells). Without our normal defenses, we’re more susceptible to inflammation and infection. The good news? Research has shown that having an optimistic attitude and practicing mindfulness-based activities, like meditation and yoga, can boost our immune cells and reverse molecular reactions that cause poor health. If you’re new to meditation, here are few great apps to help you get started:
• Ten Percent Happier
Sleep – Catch Your Zzz’s
During sleep, our immune system releases cytokines, a protein that helps produce infection-fighting antibodies and white blood cells. When our sleep lacks in quantity or quality, cytokine production decreases and our immune system’s ability to fight infection weakens. If coronasomnia is preventing you from achieving the recommended 7-8 hours, try these tips:
• Stick to a routine. Working from home may tempt you to stay up later binging Netflix, but irregular sleep patterns disrupt our circadian rhythms and make us feel even more sluggish.
• Remember work/life balance. When your kitchen is also now your office, it can be challenging to turn off at the end of the day. Experts suggest building ‘white space’ into your schedule – “a transition period between work and non-work hours … even five to 10 minutes of unplanned time between when you end work and start your home-related activities can help.”
• Move regularly. A new home office doesn’t have to mean a sedentary workstyle. Research shows that moving throughout the day contributes to falling asleep more quickly and improved sleep quality. NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities are daily physical movements that expend energy but are not structured exercise. Examples include doing housework, playing with your kids, taking walking breaks, using a standing desk, and climbing the stairs. So, remember to move regularly throughout the day for a better night’s rest!
Find more health and wellness resources from Moda Health here.
Lindsey Patience is a Wellness Advisor II at Moda Health where she provides guidance, support, and creative solutions for employee wellbeing programs. She previously served as an onsite health coach at a global pharmaceutical company where she helped more than 80% of her population reduce one or more high-risk health indicators to a healthy level. As a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and mindfulness enthusiast, she believes in creating meaningful wellness initiatives that address the whole person.