When we become ill due to a virus or infection, our daily lives are disrupted. Remarkably, our body's defenses are waging a near-constant battle against invaders every day. Yet, for those of us who are immunocompromised, due to cancer or other physical conditions, it’s important to take precautionary measures in order to stay healthy and give ourselves that extra boost. While we’re all hunkered down at home with ample time to concentrate on wellness, we thought we’d share some helpful ways to strengthen our immune systems naturally. From nutrition and daily meditation to sleeping well and simply staying home, read on for some no-brainer tips and tricks below.
*Friendly reminder: please consult a doctor before adopting any new regimens.
Start with Nutrition
Being immunocompromised, or immunosuppressed, means that we are more vulnerable to infection, according to Dr. William Li, a scientist and subject matter expert on immune health. Considering food as medicine, he advises paying attention to what we put into our bodies and protecting it from the inside-out. It’s not necessary to look for strange ingredients, either. Staying hydrated, eating healthy, and consuming probiotics are great practices, as are focusing on foods that lower inflammation and are rich in antioxidants and nutrients.1 We'be been making lemon, ginger and honey tea, taking elderberry syrup and trying to cook with garlic and turmeric as much as possible. What’s amazing about our biological systems is that eating healthy not only supports our physical wellness, but it makes us feel better too. Not to mention, the more wholesome we eat, the more our body starts to crave healthier foods!
Our immune system is highly intelligent. Our daily thoughts, moods, sensations and expectations play an important role in our overall health and are transmitted to our immune cells. But when we meditate, these messages can be adjusted and they can: reduce our pro-inflammatory genes, slow down viruses, boost our antibodies and stimulate areas in our brain that control positive emotions, awareness and anxiety – ultimately, making our immune system function more effectively.2 You can find a list of guideded meditation apps here.
Get Better Sleep
We’re sheltering at home for the benefit of ourselves, the public, and especially, those vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. But are we giving ourselves a chance to get quality sleep and rest? “Emotional stress, lack of sleep, and physical exhaustion can all depress immunity, making an immunocompromised patient more susceptible to disease,” Dr. Li explains. There are many great tools for promoting better sleeping patterns such as removing TV, phones, and other distractions from the bedroom. We can also sip chamomile tea, take a bath or meditate prior to going to bed. Instead of viewing lazy days at home as permission to slumber at any hour, consider winding down at the same time every night. Regular sleep schedules promote better and longer rest, leaving our bodies more vital and our minds ready to start each new day.
Stay at Home!
This one sounds like a no-brainer right now, but what about times when we need to see a doctor or go to the pharmacy or grocery store? What if we’re in the midst of treatment or require non-video follow-ups or emergency care? When we have a weakened immune system, simply visiting a hospital can pose a risk. So, here are several suggestions from one of our favorite resources, Stand Up To Cancer, on navigating wellness during a pandemic:
- Have a plan: Contact your healthcare team and work out a detailed plan. They know your unique situation, understand your immunity and risks, and can carve out a treatment plan.
- Ask questions: Make sure you utilize any time with your doctor to discuss, in detail, how your unique health can be impacted by asking the right questions.
- Protective guidelines: From telemedicine to supplements to household cleaners, it’s good to know what steps we can take to mitigate risk in our homes and bodies.
Remember the Basics
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with the “big” stuff that we often forget or overlook the little things. Continuing to practice extra safety measure at home is essential. These include following safe food-handling practices, reducing or avoiding alcohol, limiting heavy caffeine and soda consumption and watching our salt and sugar intake. Good nutrition is critical for good health, and the World Health Organization recommends people in quarantine take these simple, proactive measures.3 So is staying active, taking a break from bad news and making sure to get fresh air each day.
While every one of us has a different set of circumstances, it’s important that we stay earnest around being healthy and supporting our immune systems as much as possible. And since we’re all in this together (literally), why not make it fun by sharing practices with friends and loved ones?
“The human body has been designed to resist an infinite number of changes and attacks brought about by its environment. The secret of good health lies in successful adjustment to changing stresses on the body.” – Harry J. Johnson