You want — no, NEED — to stay healthy and functioning at a 10. Maybe you’re on the healthcare frontlines during a pandemic. Or maybe you’re working from home while simultaneously homeschooling three kids. Bottom line, your universe needs you healthy.
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Good news! While there’s no magic “healthy pill,” there are tried-and-true ways to take your immunity superpowers up a notch. Preventive medicine physician and wellness expert Sandra Darling, DO, shares her top tips for staying healthy.
Get ready to boost your immune system
“Let’s start with the basics: Wash your hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch your face and take social distancing seriously,” says Dr. Darling. “If you only do these three things, you’ll be well on your way to staying healthy.”
But there’s more you can do. Dr. Darling prescribes four stay-healthy strategies.
Focus on food
“I believe in the power of immune-boosting foods,” says Dr. Darling. “Choosing whole, unprocessed foods does wonders for overall health.”
Dr. Darling recommends these immunity boosters:
- Garlic: Allicin, a compound in garlic, is well-known for its ability to boost the immune system. The most benefit comes from eating one-half of a raw garlic clove daily. If you can’t stomach raw garlic, the next best thing is to roast it.
- Prebiotics: Robust gut bacteria protect us against infection. Keep those bacteria healthy with prebiotics that contain fiber, specifically inulin fiber. Excellent sources of prebiotics are Jerusalem artichokes, green bananas or plantains, Jicama root and asparagus.
- Vitamin C-rich foods: Vitamin C is known to boost immunity. One study found that older adults who ate kiwi every day for a month had a significant decrease in the severity and duration of upper respiratory infection symptoms. “People often reach for orange juice to get vitamin C, but juice has a lot of sugar,” says Dr. Darling. “It’s better to get vitamin C from oranges, broccoli, kiwi or cantaloupe.”
- Antioxidants: Stress can lead to lowered immunity and make you more prone to illness. Colorful fruits and vegetables including berries, carrots and spinach have antioxidants that protect you against oxidative stress, which translates to a stronger immune system.
Living under constant stress, even low-grade, that continues day in and out, causes the body to produce too much cortisol, the stress hormone. Over time, elevated cortisol lowers your resistance to fighting off infection and contributes to poor sleep and higher blood pressure.
Protect yourself from stress and bolster your immune system with a few lifestyle tweaks:
- Sleep: Yep, it’s easier said than done (especially if you’re an insomniac). But here’s the deal — you need seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night to fight off infection. “Prioritize sleep. If you need help, choose a tried-and-true technique known as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I,” says Dr. Darling. “Talk with your doctor to find a reputable therapist or download a CBT-I app.”
- Meditation: Even five minutes a day of guided meditation, or simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, can make a difference. Meditation lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and reduces anxiety. Plus, it’s calming. So it’s not surprising that it also helps you sleep.
- Exercise: “Exercise increases your resilience so you can fight off infection,” says Dr. Darling. “Our bodies function better when we’re physically active every day.” Dr. Darling recommends carving out at least 10 minutes a day, ideally 30 minutes, and doing a mixture of cardio and strength training.
Attitude is everything
A positive mindset is vital for health and well-being. Research shows that positive thoughts reduce stress and inflammation and increase resilience to infection — while negative emotions can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is scary, so it’s easy to spiral down in negative thoughts,” says Dr. Darling. “The story we tell ourselves is crucial. Change it from ‘It’s not going to be OK’ to ‘I am safe at home with the people I love.’ Start your day with a positive thought or even a mantra such as, ‘I am well.’”
Natural immunity aids
If you’re ready to give it all you got when it comes to avoiding the coronavirus, consider these extra measures:
- Supplements: “A lot of people are deficient (or low) in vitamin D, and a deficiency may increase your susceptibility to infection,” says Dr. Darling. “Get outside for fresh air and sunshine, but I also recommend taking a daily supplement of 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D.”
- Essential oils: Eucalyptus and tea tree oils have antiviral properties that may protect you against infection from viruses. Use in an oil diffuser to inhale them or make a hand sanitizer using tea tree oil mixed with aloe vera gel and isopropyl alcohol. Studies also show that lavender essential oil has a calming effect, so it can help ease anxiety and improve sleep. Add a few drops to a warm bath or use the oil in a diffuser while you work or sleep.
And sometimes, even with lots of sleep and vitamin C, superheroes get sick. It’s OK! The key is to take time off to recharge (and avoid getting others sick). In no time, you’ll be donning your cape again. But for your health and the health of those around you, make sure you’re fully supercharged before you do.