Living though a pandemic requires a healthy immune system – it’s your first and last line of defence, so it pays to keep your white blood cells firing on all cylinders.
Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take, from nutrition, to lifestyle, to mindset, in order to shore up your defences and help to prevent you getting ill, or passing sickness onto others. Read on to find out more…
1. Use Exercise To Activate Your White Blood Cells
To be immunologically fit, you need to keep doing your cardio. Exercise actually mobilises your white blood cells by increasing your blood flow. It gives them a helping hand, sending them out into your body to seek and destroy invaders, and watch out for new incursions.
You don’t need to go crazy, the UK’s NHS recommends being active in some way every day, and complete at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (hiking, cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (running). We’d recommend a mix of both, in order to raise your lactate threshold, and increase your cardiovascular system’s capacity to process oxygen. Even if you do become sick, this ability should serve you well.
Just don’t overdo it – overtraining is an actual thing and can devastate your immune system. Use a heart rate monitor and if you ever see your heart rate performance dropping (ie your heart is working harder than usual at a certain pace) then that’s a classic sign of overtraining and you should stop, and seek advice.
2. Get Some Sun Or Eat Vit D Foods
Vitamin D is actually used by those first line of defences macrophages, so make sure you get some responsible sun exposure, and eat foods containing Vit D (eggs, oily fish, oatmeal).
That other Vit crucial for immune health is Vit C, but it’s water soluble and isn’t stored by your body, so popping Vit C pills isn’t going to be useful. Instead, make sure your larder of fresh (or frozen) fruit and veg is well stocked.
‘Alcohol can cripple your first line of defence against illness’
3. Lay Off The Booze
While it’s tempting to drink your way out of a lockdown, research suggests that not only can your first line of defence (macrophages), be crippled by heavy alcohol consumption, but your white blood cell count can drop too, making you less able to fight illness.
4. Lay On Some Zinc
A 2019 Cornall Group study published in Nature made clear for the first time the link between the human immune system and zinc. A lack of it is associated with loss of white blood cells, low levels of antibodies to fight infections, and skin disease.
So, make sure you are including sources of zinc in your diet. Meat and shellfish are good sources, but then so are wholegrains, pulses and nuts, so you can hit your zinc target whether you eat meat or not.
‘Beta-carotene – in carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy veg – has an uncanny ability to increase immune cell numbers in the human body’
5. Go Orange And Green
Another important nutrient for immune function is beta-carotene – present in carrots, sweet potatoes and leafy veg – which is a powerful antioxidant. It can reduce inflammation and has an uncanny ability to increase immune cell numbers in the human body.
Studies have suggested that it has these effects with only a moderate increase in the dietary intake, and within a relatively short space of time – so don’t snooze on sweet potatoes!
6. Maintain A Healthy Sleep Routine
Life may be turned upside down in a pandemic, but it pays to maintain your sleep schedule. A 2016 review of 22,000 adults found that those who slept less than five hours a night, or have a diagnosed sleep disorder, are more likely to catch a cold.
The study found that over the past 30 days sleeping less than five hours gave a 19% chance of having a head or chest cold, while sleeping six hours gave a 16% chance, and getting seven or more hours was a 15% chance.
And if you’re sleeping less then you’re less likely to have energy to exercise and eat healthily, so use evening time for unwinding, preferably offline and away from rolling news!
WHAT NEXT? If you’re looking for motivation to fuel an immune-system boosting exercise programme, then know the fitness you start to build now will pay dividends on next year’s ski or snowboard snow trip – check out our guide to Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in the Sierra Nevadas, for inspiration…
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Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.