Everyone is afraid right now. That’s understandable. We are living in scary times. No one is sure how long this COVID-19 outbreak will last. Some say 6 months, some say a year or even more.
One thing for sure, this is the new norm and we all have to do our part to be socially responsible, wash our hands with soap and water, avoid touching our faces, avoid crowded areas and practise social distancing.
But we do know a few things. We know that healthy people tend to be less severely impacted by the virus than people who have preexisting conditions. We know older people have been more susceptible than younger people, because as you age, your immune system weakens.
Therefore boosting our immune system is the best thing we can do right now to protect ourselves not just from COVID-19 but to make sure we stay strong and healthy!
One thing you must know about me, I love researching and learning from experts. I always tell my kids, no matter how old you get, never stop learning! I certainly practice what I preached because after being a baby and child sleep expert for 7 years, I recently became a certified adult sleep expert and it’s been interesting to learn how complicated adult sleep is.
Anyway here are the top 7 hacks I’ve found during my research to keep us healthy.
1. Go with your gut
The health of our gut bacteria has been linked to a wide range of chronic illness. Clinical evidence suggests that inflammation in the intestine is the root cause of all neurodegenerative disease: Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s.
Our gut wall houses 70% of the cells that build up our immune system. Good bacteria in the gut strengthens our gut wall and protects us from potential pathogens by acting as a layer of cells and chemical protective barriers.
The bacteria in our gut either activate or suppress inflammation to regulate our immune system. If our gut wall is weakened, potential pathogens can enter our bloodstream which will consequently activate inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s response to injury or infections.
Gut health starts with our diet. Foods like turmeric and black pepper help reduce inflammation. Diets high in refined sugar cause inflammation and reduce microbiota diversity. Probiotics, found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, can improve gut health.
In my adult sleep package, I will run a lab test to analyze your gut’s health and the lab results will tell us if pathogens are present (parasites, bacterias and yeast infections). The better we know about our microbiome, the better we’ll be able to prevent illness.
2. Exercise regularly
The best thing we can do to stay healthy is to keep exercising regularly. Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Studies show that if you exercise as you get older, your muscles will stay strong and intact longer.
Our immune system receives a serious boost from regular exercise, making our ability to fight infection and disease intact even as we age. The thymus is the area responsible for the hormones that control our immune system. New immune cells are created by muscles, so someone who’s maintaining muscle with regular exercise is making lots of the immune hormone that keeps the thymus working optimally.
Basically you can delay or reverse aging through regular exercise!
3. Learn from the Blue Zones people
Blue Zones residents have been identified as communities who are living longer, healthier and happier lives.
What do these world’s longest-lived people have in common?
They move their bodies every day. They don’t rely on machines to do their household chores. They stop eating when they’re 80% full. They eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or evening and then they don’t eat anymore for the rest of the day. They belong to faith-based communities and have close-knit families. Their diet consists mainly of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, with little to no refined sugars.
4. Intermittent fasting helps
Going without food for 3 days has been shown to reset our immune system. In a 2014 study fasting was found to lower white blood cell counts, which in turn triggered the immune system to start producing new white blood cells. White blood cells (or lymphocytes) are a key component of our body’s immune system. Once we start eating again our stem cells kick back into high gear to replenish the cells that were recycled.
Of course for many of us, fasting for 3 days is hard. So intermittent fasting which means we only eat within the 8 hour window is much easier to do and produces similar benefits. Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular health, better endurance and lower blood pressure.
5. Sweat it out
Our skin which is the largest organ is essentially our third kidney. Sweat glands help our skin filter toxins out from our body which in turn boosts our immune system.
A 2015 research showed that sauna use 2-3 times per week was associated with increased longevity and 24% lower mortality. Sauna use has been shown to improve blood pressure and reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The heat inside the sauna raises our core body temperature by 1°-2°C. This is like having an artificial fever, and all the cells in our body react accordingly.
6. Smile more, stress less
There is a strong link between your mental health and your immune system. When you’re under chronic stress or anxiety, your body produces stress hormones that suppress your immune system. Research has shown that people who are stressed are more susceptible to getting sick easily.
First piece of advice: Smile. The mere act of smiling makes us happier. Laugh, too. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and it’s not just a cliche. The physical act of laughter stimulates our brain to make us feel better.
Second piece of advice: Get support from your friends. A study found that those with more types of social ties were less susceptible to the common colds. I guess friendship does serve as a buffer against stress.
7. Get enough sleep!
As a sleep expert, of course I saved the best for last. Sleep is the most important foundation of our health. Poor sleep has been linked to weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. When we are sleep deprived, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol to keep us awake and alert, which can suppress our immune system. A 2019 study showed that people who got a full 8 hours of sleep had higher disease-fighting cells such as T cells than those who slept less.
Without sufficient sleep, our body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Bottom line is when we are well rested our body will restore and repair much more easier.
Please share this article if you have found it helpful. My name is Zoe Chu and I am a sleep expert for both young and old. If you are struggling to get 7-8 hours of sleep or you suffer from insomnia for months or years… get in touch with me to see how I can help.