Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians and policymakers have focused on social distancing, washing hands, and face coverings, three things that might slow the spread of COVID-19.

Coming from a health and fitness background, what’s most disturbing to me is the lack of discussion around improving people’s health. If public health is important to public health policymakers, the first thing they should be emphasizing is what it takes to be healthy. 

Healthy bodies handle viruses better than sick ones. Strong immune systems fight viruses better than weak ones.

God gave us protection against pathogens that’s much stronger than that of a cloth mask.

The following are five ways I ensure my immune system is ready to handle the virus when it gets in my eyes, nose, or mouth. 

They’re all habits you can adopt beginning today, to help keep the effects of the virus away. I call them nonnegotiable habits because they’re not optional in my life. I hope they become nonnegotiable in your life as well.

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1. Sleep at least seven hours every night

Sleep debt disrupts your hormones, making you gain body fat, even when you eat a lower-calorie diet. Being overweight increases your risk of a severe case of COVID-19

A lack of sleep also leads to insulin resistance. Just one night of insufficient sleep leads to insulin resistance the next day. Elevated blood sugar also raises the risks of a severe case of COVID-19. 

Finally, sleep debt compromises your ability to react to pathogens. It sabotages your body’s adaptive immunity, which is the part of your immune system that develops antibodies to viruses, like SARS-CoV-2.

In sum, research during the past years has accumulated evidence that sleep affects a wide variety of immune functions, including the numbers of specific leukocyte subsets in circulating blood, the cell-specific production of cytokines and further immune cell functions.

Besedovsky L, et al.

Seven hours of sleep is the low end of the threshold for sufficient sleep. The range is seven to nine hours.

2. Strength train three to five times per week

Your level of muscle mass plays a significant role in your body’s immune function.

The more muscle mass you have, the more capacity you create for storing carbohydrates. As I mentioned earlier, as fasting blood sugar rises, it compromises immune function. If you don’t have enough muscle to store the carbs you eat, your blood sugar remains elevated until you can turn the carbs into triglycerides or body fat.

In addition, research shows that as you lose muscle, or if you’re in a catabolic (muscle-losing) state, you reduce the strength of your immune system. This could be why those with cardiovascular disease are more susceptible to something like COVID-19. The cardiac cachexia associated with heart disease weakens your immune system.

Skeletal muscle regulates immune system functions via myokine signaling and the expression of immune modulatory surface molecules. Immune cells in turn critically influence muscle mass and function. Therefore, skeletal muscle may act as a central integrator between sarcopenia and immune senescence (age-related loss of immune function).

Nelke C, et al.

If you’re just getting started, three days a week will suffice for strength training. However, four is better. You will get results faster (provides you’re following a good strength training program). You’ll also develop the habit of exercising faster, as such a schedule has you exercising more days per week than you don’t.

3. High-protein diet

Protein is the most important macronutrient for a healthy body. Higher-protein intakes consistently lead to improved body composition, reduced appetite, improved lean body mass, better blood sugar levels, and stronger immune response.

On the flip-side, insufficient protein can lead to increased body fat, poor health, and a weaker immune system.

This is why a higher-protein diet is part of my First 3 Habits of VIGOR(ESS) Health

A deficiency of dietary protein or amino acids has long been known to impair immune function and increase the susceptibility of animals and humans to infectious disease.

Li P, et al.

Though I usually eat only two meals per day, I still eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound body weight (or goal body weight). That’s the same recommendation I make for almost anyone else unless they have pre-existing kidney disease.

4. Foundational Five supplements

Numerous supplements, herbs, and botanicals support your health and a strong immune system. It can be overwhelming to decide where to start.

Before delving into targeted supplements, I always recommend what I call, “The Foundational Five.”

If your goal is weight loss, start with The Foundational Five.

If your goal is performance, start with The Foundational Five.

If your goal is long-term health, longevity, recovery from an injury, or of course, a strong immune system, start with The Foundational Five.

The Foundational Five includes:

  1. High-quality multivitamin
  2. Fish oil
  3. Magnesium
  4. Vitamin D
  5. Digestive enzymes

I’ve written extensively about each of these elsewhere. For this post, I simply wanted to get you started.

I’m happy to email my favorite products for The Foundational Five to you if you’re interested.

5. Emotional balance

I’m not someone who spends much time “getting in touch with my emotions.” But there’s something to be said about your emotional state and your immune system strength.

This quote comes from a paper published 30 years ago (emphasis mine).

Chronic stress has been associated with suppression of immune function, and there is evidence that the immune system may not adapt over time. Effects of stress accompanying social disruption and psychological depression, when demonstrated, have been consistently adverse.

Ann O’Leary

We live in a time of extreme tension, where people remain muzzled and afraid to speak up, but we’ve also had our social structures almost entirely dismantled.

Entertainment, dining, and shopping, aren’t what they used to be. Heck, in some areas, you can’t even have a conversation with someone else without you both wearing masks. The masks are a constant reminder of the virus and all the baggage surrounding it. On top of that, you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions, which is necessary for healthy human interaction.

If you can’t see another person’s facial expressions, you don’t sense what they’re feeling. That might seem insignificant, but it’s not. Your facial expressions do more to share the intent of your words than your words themselves do. You’re left to fill in the blanks with your imagination.

One research group looked at the effects of masks on doctors in a clinical setting. They found:

In this large randomized controlled trial, we found that the wearing of facemasks by doctors had little effect on patient enablement and satisfaction but had a significant and negative effect on patients’ perceptions of the doctors’ empathy.

Wong, et al.

When we need to understand one another better, face masks cloud our understanding of, and limit our empathy toward others. 

This adds to your already elevated levels of mental stress.

To combat the stress-increasing, immune system-weakening effects of our current environment, make it a point to support your emotional wellbeing.

Summary

God gave us a powerful defense system called our immune system. It seeks and destroys what would do us harm. But it only works if we’re not weakening it with poor lifestyle and nutrition choices.

You can do a lot to turn your health around and strengthen your immune system in just one month. You just have to get started.

Have a thought, question, or comment to share? Keep the conversation going in the VIGOR Training Facebook Group.

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