The latter part of 2019 into the year 2020 will go down history as a most perplexing and devastating period in the lives of many. Never did we imagine that shaking hands or hugging our loved ones will be branded a deadly act, neither did anyone envision and so plan for the lockdown that most nations imposed on their citizens, as a means of controlling the spread of the novel disease, the COVID-19.
Facing such a health crisis, where a drug or vaccine is yet to be approved by the WHO, what people can rely on is the good, old immune system. Our immune system is always the body’s first line of defense against any disease-causing microorganism. Current data suggest that those with a pre-existing health condition and are a little over 10 times more at risk of dying from COVID-19 than those who are immunocompetent and or have no underlying health condition. As such, keeping our” soldiers” fit is paramount to our survival in this period.
Below are some simple but life-saving ways to keep your immune system strong and ready to ward off any coronavirus infection.
1. Sleep: It is a medically established fact that sleep and the immune system have a directional relationship; meaning that sleep has a significant impact on the state of the immune system and vice versa. Researches among rats and dogs showed that prolonged sleep deprivation caused a gradual breakdown of their immune system, increased their susceptibility to infections, and ultimately may lead to their death.
Human sleep-immunity researches have also shown very interesting findings. First, very good sleep has been observed to increase memory, not only with respect to brain function but also immunological memory (yes, the immune system has a memory), which is absolutely necessary for an organism to adapt to its environment. Sleep after vaccination has been shown to improve the immune response to the vaccine by two-fold. Some experiments using rats demonstrated that those that had adequate sleep were less symptomatic and had a more favorable outcome following infection with different species of bacteria.
Still thinking of binge-watching movies throughout the night? Well in the study above, it was observed that prolonged sleep deprivation caused the microorganisms in the gut that were otherwise harmless or even helpful, to cause severe infection that killed the rats. So adequate sleep is not only important in reducing the risk of infection but is a necessary factor for keeping the bacteria in our body in check.
In case you think you’re probably close to the grave because you’ve been sleep deprived, there is hope for you. In the same study, enhanced sleep following sleep deprivation was shown to also improve the survival outcome of infections. So it’s not too late if you’ve been sleep deprived.
2. Exercise: Several people all over the world get involved in some form of exercise for various reasons. For some, hitting the gym or jogging regularly is towards achieving 6 packs, building muscles, losing weight, or perhaps simply as a hobby. Whatever the reason may be, research has shown that exercise has a significant influence on the state of the immune system.
Some researchers propose that single bouts of strenuous physical exertion can actually suppress the immune system function, but this remains a controversial topic as very little data exists to support this claim, and other researches have come out with contrary evidence.
This claim is supported by the finding of an increase in the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections among high-performance athletes during prolonged vigorous training sessions or even during competitions. However, it is widely accepted that moderate and regular physical exertion is beneficial for immunological health.
It increases cell number and strengthens function, keeping your immune system younger for a long period of time. Keeping an active lifestyle also decreases the risk of developing non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer, which in themselves suppress immune function and make people susceptible to various diseases.
3. Diet: A healthy eating habit is an inextricable factor for a well-functioning immune system. Unfortunately, we live in a generation that is highly dependent on processed foods that are rich in fats and sugars but have little to insignificant amounts of micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and trace elements.
These nutrients play a special role, most of them carrying out multiple functions in the immune system as well as other body systems. Deficiencies in one or more of these micronutrients, therefore, exerts multiple effects that culminate in a weak defense against infections. Therefore, even as you plan to spend time resting and participating in some forms of exercise, decide to bring a balance to your diet.
Include more fruits, nuts, and seeds to your diet. Cut down on over-cooking (as heat destroys majority of these micronutrients) and taking processed food. Ensure you have a good supply of the nutrient in your diets, because your immune system depends on it, to keep your soldiers fit in this period.
These are just a few things for you to give attention to, in order to stay immunologically sound.
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