Around 95% of the United States population is currently under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, with daily activities changed as a result of the worldwide pandemic. All of the uncertainty of the future, combined with the fear of contracting COVID-19 and extra time to ponder the realities of our current situation, has lead many to seek out ways to improve their immune system. And while an improved immune system isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get sick, having a healthy body and mind in the face of something like the coronavirus is the best thing you can do.
In fact, now is the perfect time to be eating healthy, exercising (while still practicing social distancing), and boosting your immune system to increase your chances of fighting off the nasty virus. However, all of the blueberries and positive thinking in the world won’t make a difference if you are still partaking of these 5 things that are harming your immune system and negating your efforts.
Even if you think you are treating your body better by vaping or using e-cigarettes instead of smoking, the nicotine exposure can be just as harmful. Put down the traditional cigarettes, cease other forms of nicotine inhalation and stop chewing tobacco as these things can all prove incredibly harmful for your body in general and your immune system in particular. Nicotine is especially detrimental to your immune system because it can raise your cortisol levels, cause inflammation, increase free radicals, and reduce your body’s capability to fight off viruses and infection.
Processed sugar is the root of so many health concerns and diseases that it is a good idea just to go cold turkey and cut it out of your life. It can contribute to weight gain (which already decreases immune response), make you feel tired, sluggish, cause digestive issues, and impair your natural germ and virus resistance. Though you may feel tempted to snack on unhealthy food or take up baking while stuck at home, it may be prudent to avoid sugar-laden food, especially if it is combined with a decrease in activity. Remember, much of the sugar you consume is in liquid form. Those fancy frappuccinos from your favorite coffee shop or that daily can of soda are doing more harm than you might think.
Too much exercise
That 30-minute walk or daily workout video that you’ve taken up since you started staying at home certainly doesn’t qualify as too much exercise. However, if you are filling your time with grueling workouts and not giving your body time to rest, you may actually be hampering your immune system instead of helping it. Though this effect is usually temporary and often only seen in professional athletes, it is still important to realize the necessity of rest days if you are training hard for something like a marathon.
On the flip side, moderate exercise (up to an hour a day) can increase your immunity against certain viruses and could even help you recover faster if you’re feeling sick. This occurs because exercise actually causes immune cells to circulate through the body more quickly, which enables them to fight off viruses and bacteria. Be sure to listen to your body and practice proper stretching to avoid injury.
Unfortunately, one of the things that can hamper your immune functions is something that is a necessary evil in the age of coronavirus. Researchers have observed that when study participants felt lonely they experienced increased levels of norepinephrine in their blood, which is a natural chemical that is usually produced when a person is in a life-threatening situation, causing a raised heart rate and blood pressure. This can cause the body to shut down the immune system functions to preserve the more vital functions of the body.
Since you can’t exactly go hang out with people right now, try using facetime, skype, or zoom to check in on your friends and family or schedule group calls to help ease your loneliness.
The body is not prepared to handle chronic stress. All of the hormones that flood through your system in a time of panic are intended to be a short term solution to get you out of a bind and to a place of relaxation. When your fight or flight response is constantly activated, it leads to organ inflammation and a worn-out, ineffective immune system.