You’re stuck at home and worried about your immune strength to avoid and fight COVID-19. What can you do?
Believe it or not, you can use lifestyle habits for a strong immune system right where you are. There’s never been a better time to build these healthy habits into your daily life. And, while they may not seem as crucial as medications, they are potent.
These healthy habits are science-backed virus, bacteria, and disease-fighters. They are great disease-fighters to use in addition to the current tips we’ve provided for nutrition and to reduce your risk of COVID-19.
Think about how you can use each one to life your mood, your faith, and your immune system today.
Let’s start with a fun habit. Laughter.
Have you ever wondered why we laugh? Why did God give us this gift?
It is an amazing health-promoting habit. The more you can build laughter into your daily life, the more you’ll reduce cortisol, improve your mood, and decrease depression.
These, in turn, will promote better immunity.
Interestingly, multiple studies show that the benefits of smiling and laughter are experienced whether its real or fake. So fake it if you need to, and get in a good belly laugh each day.
Sleep is one of the strongest immune-boosters available to you right now. It can help you avoid getting sick from many viruses as well as reduce mortality from chronic disease.
And there’s great news during this COVID-19 pandemic: Sleep is available, and it’s free.
If you are currently working from home, you may have an extra half an hour of sleep available without your commute. Or, with a toned-down evening schedule, perhaps you can go to sleep 30 or 60 minutes earlier than usual.
How is sleep one of the strongest lifestyle habits for a strong immune system?
It allows your body and brain to recoup, restore, and fight disease. During sleep, your immune system releases cytokines which both promote sleep and fight disease. When you are awake, your body must do the work of being awake, moving, and maintaining an active brain. This takes most of its resources. When you are asleep, it can do maintenance on your body.
What’s more, sleep deprivation is well-documented as a factor in decreased immunity and increased disease, decreasing immunity cells and strength (1).
Another study of 1,654 participants aged 20-74 years looked at sleep and its effects on those with chronic disease. It followed these participants for 20 years (2). The results indicated that participants with existing high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes, who slept less than 6 hours per night, were 1.8 times likely to die of heart disease or stroke.
Of course, there are many first-responders and health care workers working overtime, without the ability to sleep as much as they need. If you can lighten their load by providing shopping or other services to them, it may give them a chance for more sleep, too!
It’s a tough time for relationships. With most Americans staying home and social distancing, it can feel difficult to maintain meaningful relationships outside your own family. But, God has created us for relationships, and they are important for health.
Positive relationships can improve your mood and decrease stress. This, in turn, can promote better immune function (see more below).
To maintain relationships during this time:
Maintain the relationships that are important to you. It’s good for your health and immune function.
There’s never been a better time to get your gratitude journal going again. You may have started one during the Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season last year. Or, this idea may be new to you.
Gratitude journals, focusing on small daily blessings, are powerful. Being grateful is associated with better mental, emotional, and physical health and immunity.
How does it help?
In studies, gratitude has been shown to improve mental health while decreasing stress and cortisol(3). It can also reduce the risk of depression, chronic diseases like metabolic syndrome and more (4). What’s more, people who feel most gratitude also feel more optimistic. Studies have even found that our bodies produce more disease-fighting immune cells when we are grateful and optimistic (5).
To start a gratitude journal, first simply get a pen and a paper, or a journal. Next, write 5-10 “gratitudes” per day. They can be big or small things. You can write them throughout the day, or at the beginning or end. Just choose to focus on gratitudes each day as one of your lifestyle habits for a strong immune system.
During the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic, you might feel like you don’t have many options for exercise. But actually, you have 2 great options: exercise in your home OR outside.
In fact, if you look online for free yoga, aerobic, or other classes, you’ll likely find some great ones. Many gyms and studios are offering free class streams for the next few weeks.
Or, get outside! Whether it’s just a short walk or a ride on a bike, God has given us a huge gift in the mood-elevating outdoors. Not only is any activity good for our muscles, hearts, and brains, outdoor-activity specifically has been shown to improve mood and depression (6). What’s more, if the sun is shining, your body will make Vitamin D, an immune-stimulated vitamin.
And there’s even more good news: When you exercise, a group of immune cells called myokines are produced and released by the skeletal muscles. These promote immune function and whole-body health benefits (7).
Prayer is not a last-ditch effort for health and immune function, but a foundation for your relationship with God, your mental health, physical health, and entire well-being.
In fact, prayer releases control from you and gives it to God. It helps change your heart towards any stressful situation, even if the situation itself doesn’t change. And lastly, it allows you to focus on truth. God’s truth is that He is with you in any circumstance. That nothing is too big. And, that He will walk with you through it.
The act of prayer has shown to increase certain helpful neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which help promote a state of relaxation, focus, motivation, and well-being.
God has given us prayer as an amazing cortisol-releasing activity that brings us closer to Him while improving our health. As stress goes down, immune function improves.
All of the above activities, from exercise to laughing to sleep, are stress-releasing activities. They all reduce cortisol, and this has a direct impact on your immune system. They are all stress-reducing, lifestyle habits for a strong immune system.
But, you may know of some others to work great to reduce your own stress. What are they? Reading? Talking on the phone to a loved one?
If needed, think of 1-3 more activities you can do each day during this pandemic to decrease stress and cortisol.
As you do, you’ll promote immune health. High blood cortisol levels are correlated with increased blood pressure, poor immunity, negative moods, reduced sleep and energy, memory issues, and an increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease (8). Stress-reducing activities can help!
You are not alone, and you are not without help. You can use at-home lifestyle habits for a strong immune system, starting today. Of course, there’s even more you can do to reduce your risk of COVID-19. See this post for many current tips.
And in addition, reduce daily stress and cortisol to boost immune function!