Immune, immunity, immune system. “Build your immune system!” they say!
These phrases get thrown around a lot, especially right now. But what does this actually mean and how do I “build” my immune system? In a very short, simple answer, consistent, quality exercise and recovery, and consistent, quality nutritional habits. Pretty simple right? No.
Understanding what one needs to do in order to build their immune system and implementation can be a difficult task. Right now, the whole world has been thrown into a crisis. There is a lot of fear but I can tell you, there is also a lot of hope and there is a lot you can do to help your body combat not only COVID-19 but any other illness — chronic or acute. Let’s take a quick look.
What exactly is your immune system? Your immune system is your body’s way of protecting you against disease-causing organisms and typically it does a pretty good job on its own. However, it sometimes fails us, and something successfully breaks through and we get sick. Typically, we recover fairly quickly, and we go about our daily lives.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, it is now more important than ever that we protect ourselves against this invader and the best defense is simply leading a healthy lifestyle or starting a healthy lifestyle. Its ok if you haven’t been exercising or eating properly until now — it’s not too late! You can start today, and you can live without fear!
Every part of our body and mind functions better when we lead a healthy lifestyle, and you can implement a few very easy strategies in order to gain better mental and physical health while building your immune system.
Don’t smoke (Or do quit. No one likes not being able to breathe well, and you’ll feel better overall, trust me.)
Consume a balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods (not calorie dense) such as fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. If you’re not a veggie person, grab a blender and start making smoothies. They are a great, delicious way to get the proper vitamins and minerals we need.
Exercise regularly. The World Health Organization recommends that we get a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate to intense exercise, although I tell our clients 180 minutes, just to be sure. Now, don’t let that scare you, as “moderate” and “intense” have different meanings for every human being on earth. We are all unique, so what is intense for me, may not be intense for you and vice versa.
A good rule of thumb is to try to keep your heart rate at 55-75 percent of your maximum heart rate. For those who are just beginning an exercise program. Start slow. Don’t go buy P90X after having not worked out for 15 years and expect to be feeling great the next day. Start with walking a mile, track your time and try to progress and move on from there. If you can’t make it a mile, cool, start with a quarter-mile and progress from there. If you’re a more advanced exerciser, your intensity level may be much higher.
We want to maintain a good strength and lean muscle foundation. This means that we need to do weight bearing or strength training exercises. This does not necessarily mean power lifting, CrossFit, Olympic lifting or body building; although if you are an advanced exerciser those may be great options, depending on the individual.
What this means is simply adding some form of resistance or load to your exercise prescription. You can do this by doing simple body weight exercises, using bands or light dumbbells. As gyms across the nation have shut down, including mine, my staff and I have become the MacGyvers of exercise. Everyday household items can be super-efficient in helping build and maintain lean muscle and it’s kinda fun lifting half-full milk jugs.
Gain or maintain a healthy weight. This is a culmination of the proper exercise, nutrition and recovery prescription. Again, eating nutrient-dense foods, meaning foods that have a high micronutrient value, which are our vitamins and minerals is going to be imperative to overall health and longevity, regardless of whether there is a destructive virus runnin’ amuck out there. Also, eat real food. There is something called TEF, which means the Thermo Effect of Food. I could get into a three-hour discussion behind the concept of Thermodynamics but for right now, just trust when I say that eating whole foods will actually help you burn more calories (Crazy huh? Eat more, burn more. Who woulda thunk?)
Sleep, recovery and positivity! This is something that I myself struggle with (sleep and recovery — everyone knows I’m overly positive!). Getting the proper sleep and recovery is exceptionally important, not only for your physical well-being but also your mental health. As of right now, a lot of professionals are preaching, “prepare your body!,” and they aren’t wrong; however, I’m also preaching, prepare your mind!
This is an incredibly difficult and scary time for all of us, there’s a lot of stress, and stress is very bad for the body. It causes chronic inflammation and can be very detrimental to our overall health. Practice deep breathing (do it with me right now) deep breath in ... and release, deep breath in and ... exhale. See, doesn’t that feel better?
Yoga and meditation are an incredible way to relieve stress and obtain mental and emotional balance. We have two 500-hour yoga specialists on our staff who are the best at what they do. We offer classes right now through a nifty app called ZOOM which allows us all to be together, without being together. There are several other local yoga facilities in the area that may also be offering these types of services as well, including Ocean Vayu Yoga, in Ocean View.
All of this is important for all of us, but even more so for our aging population. As we age, research shows that we have a reduced ability to fight off infections. Although it is not completely understood and research is ongoing, most scientists believe that this is due to a reduction in T Cells due to thymus atrophy. This can get complicated and very scientific, so I’ll save the physiology lesson for later but the main thing we see with our more experienced population is a form of malnutrition called “micronutrient malnutrition” (remember my whole thing about nutrient density?) If you flat out refuse to eat your veggies, like my 4-year-old, then a simple multi-vitamin can give you some coverage, but please try to get some real food in there!
As a recap, consistent exercise is a pillar of healthy living. Coupled with proper nutrition and recovery, this gives you the perfect recipe for building your immune system, reducing your stress and decreasing your risk to become seriously ill with not only the VID, but all other comorbidities. It is never too late to start living a healthier life, ever. If you’re reading this and you are not in the greatest of health, don’t worry, we can help you. You can help you!
We will all get through this together, as a local community, as a nation, as a planet of human beings. If you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or anyone else on my staff for help and guidance, we are here to assist everyone and anyone we can. Stay safe, wash those hands, eat well and exercise, we’re going to be fine!
Sources: World Health Organization (WHO) Harvard Medicine, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), Functional Aging Institute (FAI) Harvard Medical Institute
Erik Schreiber is the owner of CustomFit360 and a Certified Fitness Professional and Nutritionist with specializations in senior fitness and special populations through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Functional Aging Institute, National Council on Strength and conditioning and several other educational governing bodies. Contact (703) 626-3157. Email: email@example.com