Staying Healthy in a Pandemic
Maintaining a healthy immune system is as vital as ever in 2020. When my clients ask me what they can be doing to stay healthy through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few simple recommendations that I encourage everyone to try.
1. Eat Right It is well established that your diet plays a crucial role in immune capacity, so it's essential that we try to follow the recommendations outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Deficiencies in nutrients like Zinc, vitamins A B or C, protein, iron and omega-3 fatty acids can lead to suppressed immune system function. The average Australian diet is inadequate in many areas, we tend to eat a lot of energy-rich and nutrient-poor foods. Now is the time to focus on improving the quality of the foods we consume. Foods like fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, dairy and lean proteins should be chosen over the highly processed snacks that make up a considerable portion of most people's diets. If we focus on including more healthy foods in our diet, there is probably no need to run to the supplement aisle at your supermarket. Still, the pragmatic nutritionist in me also realises that multivitamins can have a place for individuals who genuinely struggle to consume an adequate level of healthy foods in their diet.
2. Keep moving.
Public health officials have been recommending that we all stay active and continue to exercise regularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because moderate levels of exercise have been shown to improve immune function. But I need to emphasise the word "moderate" here. If you push your body too hard with training, your immunity can actually be reduced in the short term. If you complete overly strenuous, high-intensity workouts, there is a post-exercise window where your immune system is likely to be compromised as your body tries to recover from the training session. This window of reduced immunity usually lasts for anywhere between 3 hours to 3 days. With most sporting competitions cancelled for the next few months, now is the perfect time for athletes to take the foot off the gas pedal slightly. You don't want to overtrain and get sick during a health pandemic. Moderate exercise for most healthy adults should comprise of 150 minutes of activity spread over five days per week. A combination of aerobic exercises such as jogging or cycling is an easy way to get active, but we should also try to include a couple of strength sessions into our routine. 3. Drink plenty of water Our bodies are primarily made up of water, so when we get dehydrated, our inbuilt regulation systems just don't work as well as they should. Try to stick with tap water if you can. Monitor the colour of your pee when you go to the toilet; it should be clear or light yellow. If you are thirsty, you are dehydrated. Soft-drink is the devil. Don't drink it. Nutritionists also tend to discourage people from regularly drinking fruit juices as they are loaded with energy but have fewer micronutrients than whole pieces of fruit. 4. Sleep This should really be the number one recommendation on my list. Everyone knows that it's crucial to get adequate amounts of sleep, yet we really struggle to get a full nights sleep or good quality sleep. One note on sleep that is important to consider is the effect that alcohol plays in the sleep cycle. Alcohol can relax us and help us fall asleep, but it plays havoc with the quality of sleep. Lay off the wines before bed if you want to have a good quality snooze. 5. Try to manage your stress.
It is an incredibly stressful time at the moment. High levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other nervous conditions can all negatively impact immune function. Nutrition, exercise and quality sleep can all be positive tools to help manage stress. Social connections are also essential, so do try to make an extra effort to keep in contact with your family and friends. Skype your grandkids, cook a meal for a neighbour, write a letter to an old friend and most importantly, don't be afraid to ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. So there you have it, eat nutritious foods, exercise moderately, drink water, get a good night sleep and do your best to support each other through this difficult time. Your immune system needs all the extra support it can get.
Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands.