Wash your hands often. Practice social distancing. Wear a mask.
Yes, these tactics can help prevent COVID-19 infection. However, boosting your immune system could give you a much-needed edge in the fight against the virus. There’s no magic pill, but certain lifestyle changes can improve your chances of staying healthy.
We spoke to Nicole Cook, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at Nova Southeastern University’s Kiran C. Patel College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, for her dos and don’ts of building your immunity.
DO get plenty of sleep.
Poor slumber has been linked to higher susceptibility to illness, Dr. Cook says, while rest helps regulate immune function. When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces cortisol to stay alert, which suppresses your immune system. Adults need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep a night, she says. “It’s important to get uninterrupted deep sleep so your body can do what it needs to keep you healthy.”
Yes, supplements like vitamin C and zinc can strengthen your body’s immune response. However, too much isn’t beneficial. “You have to be careful about what you take,” says Dr. Cook. “You want to make informed choices.” For example, zinc, a popular supplement right now, isn’t meant for long-term use, she says. Always speak with your doctor about supplements, especially if you’re taking other medications.
DO practice mindfulness.
“Many of us tend to be planners and like to be in control,” she says. “These days, we can’t really plan and may feel out of control. It’s a good time to retrain our thinking to focus on the present and accept what we can’t change.” Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help regulate breathing and reduce stress and anxiety, leading to improved sleep and better immunity. Try journaling, yoga or an app. (Dr. Cook suggests Insight.)
DON’T socially isolate.
Social distancing is one thing. But social isolation is another. Feeling cut off from others can increase depression and lead to lowered immunity, says Dr. Cook. “Isolation puts your mind, body and spirit out of balance.” Stay connected via safe means, such as FaceTime calls or window visits, and don’t forget vulnerable people who have no choice but to distance, such as seniors and the immunocompromised. “Everyone has a social responsibility to engage those who have to distance,” she says. O