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April 1, 2020 • read
Protect yourself from coronavirus by boosting your immune system
Since there’s no cure for COVID-19 yet, you’re probably wondering what you can do to prevent catching it in the first place, beyond thoroughly washing your hands and avoiding crowded spaces. One great place to start is boosting your immune system. A strong immune system will lower your risk of contracting infectious diseases, including coronaviruses, and help you recover quicker if you do get sick.
Your body’s immune system is a network of defense mechanisms that identifies and fights off infections. It works best when you’re taking care of your overall health. Here are some simple but powerful ways to achieve that goal:
Eat a healthy diet
Healthy foods give your body the strength it needs to fight off disease. Experts recommend including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. This provides essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber. For the biggest impact, try to mix it up and incorporate a wide variety of fruits and veggies such as pears, apples, berries, cabbage, broccoli and leafy greens.
Note that fruit juices aren’t considered an equal substitute for whole fruits. Juices contain sugar in a pure form, while whole fruits retain fiber and other nutrients.
Drink lots of water
Your immune system relies on water to keep operating at full force. Hydration assists with many of your body’s functions, including temperature regulation. If you’re sick, your body will require more water to cope with a fever.
You can hydrate by drinking simple H2O, but if you want some variety you can also try herbal tea and fruit-infused water. Caffeinated drinks aren’t optimal for boosting hydration since they have a diuretic effect.
Be careful not to over hydrate though. Drinking too much water can actually be harmful to your health as it disrupts your electrolyte balance. It’s also worth noting that drinking water will not flush the coronavirus out of your system. That rumour has been circulating, but you can’t flush a virus out of your airways by consuming fluids. Still, drinking water is a great idea to keep your immune system in top form.
Sleep 7-9 hours per night
A poor night’s sleep can make you feel groggy, and it will also do a number on your immune system. Studies have shown that getting insufficient sleep negatively affects your T cells, which are essential for fighting off illness.
Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. During this time your body repairs any stress or damage from the previous day, while bolstering your immune system.
Poor sleep is also associated with increased stress. Stress does no favours to your immune system — more on this below.
Follow hygiene guidelines
One of the best ways to lower your risk for coronavirus is to follow official public health guidelines. The general public should:
- Wash your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds each time
- Avoid leaving your home for non-essential trips
- Practice social distancing
If you’re feeling sick, it’s important to take extra precautions in addition to the above:
- Cover your cough with a tissue or elbow
- Self-isolate (more on that here)
- Visit a healthcare professional (virtually if possible) or call your local public health authority
- Monitor your symptoms for 14 days, even if they’re mild
- Wear a face mask when around other people
Following these guidelines will reduce your exposure to the coronavirus, and lessen the burden on your immune system.
Stop smoking or vaping
There’s never been a better time to quit smoking. Since the novel coronavirus attacks the lungs, anyone with a weakened respiratory system is at higher risk of becoming sick. This includes people who smoke or vape. According to global health expert Alanna Shaikh, “If you’re a smoker and you’re worried about COVID-19, I guarantee that quitting is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from the worst impacts of COVID-19.”
It may be difficult to exercise while you’re self-isolating at home, but try to move around a bit. Follow along with a cardio youtube video, do some stretching, or try a few sit-ups. Exercise can help boost your spirits, and also mobilizes your white blood cells. Just be sure not to overdo it.
Avoid alcohol, or drink in moderation
Avoid the temptation to spice up your quarantine with a couple glasses of wine. Alcohol is shown to have a negative effect on your whole immune system. Alcohol is also dehydrating, which further compromises your body.
What’s more, excessive alcohol consumption is linked to pneumonia — a dangerous complication of COVID-19, especially in senior citizens.
Manage your stress
This recommendation might seem cheeky in the face of constant news headlines, school closures and public anxiety, but try not to stress. Take comfort in the fact that by following public health guidelines, you’re doing your part to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection across the population.
There’s little anyone can do about the coronavirus except be patient. In the meantime, manage your stress by listening to music, doing yoga, or following guided meditation. And make sure to stay connected to friends and family online or over the phone —social interaction is a proven way to relieve stress.
Your immune system is your front-line defense against the coronavirus. To keep it going strong, take care of your overall well being. Your diet, sleep schedule and lifestyle habits play a huge role in how your body handles any infection.
If you feel like you may be experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, the first step is to be screened by a doctor to assess your risk factors and symptoms. It’s important that you don’t self-diagnose or head straight to a testing facility. Not every cold is COVID-19 after all and if you don’t have it, the testing centre is the last place you want to be. Instead contact your local public health unit or use an online screening service like ours, which is currently covered by OHIP in Ontario.