With the current pandemic, it has never been more important to keep your immune system strong. This is particularly true for anyone over 60 years of age, because as you age, your immune system gradually loses its strength. That’s why older individuals are more susceptible to contracting infections including COVID-19 and suffering more severe symptoms and even death; whereas those who are young tend to have minimal to no symptoms. The good news is, there are a number of simple diet and lifestyle approaches and nutritional supplements that can help support your immune system and lower your risk of contracting illness, including the flu and upper respiratory tract infections, such as the unusually contagious one we are all facing right now.
A strong immune system begins with a healthy diet and lifestyle. Research shows the most health-promoting diet is one that is primarily plant-based. So, fill your plate with lots of fresh organic, colorful fruits and vegetables because they are packed full of vitamins, minerals and certain substances, called phytochemicals, that act like natural medicines. Best yet, unlike toilet paper, these plants are easy to find in ample supply in most grocery stores!
When it comes to lifestyle, the best immune-supporting activities include daily exercise, getting good quality sleep and practicing an effective stress-reducing technique. Studies show that you can get most of the health-benefits that exercise has to offer in as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking a day. The keys to good quality sleep include not only the number of hours you sleep each night (7 to 8 hours are ideal), but of equal importance is the exact times that you sleep. Going to bed before 10 p.m. and rising before 6 a.m. appear to be the magic hours. Studies show that if you sleep during these times, you experience the deepest most immune-boosting states of sleep. If you stay up much later, such as midnight, on a regular basis, it stresses your body, causes imbalances and weakens your immune system. Because stress is one of the most powerful destroyers of our immune system, it is extremely important to minimize its damaging effects through the daily practice of an effective stress-reducing technique such as mediation, Tai Chi or yoga. If you’ve never learned one of these techniques—no problem, YouTube has many videos that can show you how.
Certain vitamins and nutritional supplements can also help to strengthen your immune system. Vitamins C and D are particularly important for your immune health. If you are deficient in either, research shows your risk of the flu and upper respiratory tract infections are much higher. Experts recommend that you take at least 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day. The amount of vitamin D you should take each day depends on your blood levels. The ideal blood level of vitamin D is in the range of 40 to 60 ng/ml. Because everyone absorbs and metabolizes vitamin D differently, some people require much higher doses each day compared to others. Some people might require 2,000 IU per day, while others may require as much as 10,000 IU per day to achieve the ideal range. The only way to know what dose is best for you is to get your levels checked. Right now, it may be difficult to schedule with your doctor, but you can still get your vitamin D level checked by ordering an at-home vitamin D test kit from www.nutrientpower.org. The kit arrives at your home with instructions. Shortly after you send your sample back, you will receive an email with your results. If your levels are very low, you will want to take the higher doses of vitamin D and re-check your levels in a few months. There is a free vitamin D calculator available at www.nutrientpower.org.
COVID-19 has caused everyone to experience a lot of stress. At high-stress times, most people want to reach for comfort foods (high in refined carbohydrates and sugar), drink more alcohol and stay up too late binge-watching TV shows or movies. These are the exact wrong things to do, because they severely weaken the immune system. Instead, focus on everything you can do to help strengthen your immune system including all the healthy habits discussed here. Eat healthy, get the right amount of sleep at the right time and supplement daily with vitamins C and D. The goal is to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic stronger with healthier habits to prepare our bodies for whatever comes next.