6 Essential Ways to Boost Your Immunity
As we deal with turbulent times, protecting our well-being may be on our minds. Here are health choices that can help.
There’s a lot happening in the world right now. As we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re social distancing. We’ve learned Black people have disproportionate outcomes with COVID-19 illness and deaths, for various reasons. And we may be feeling more stressed or tired, particularly given the racial injustice and related issues continuing to affect the country — as we’re already months into managing a pandemic.
Though you may have heard of supposed COVID-19 fixes, scientists are continuing to research treatments and a potential vaccine. To date, there is no cure.
But all is not lost. There are things you can still be thankful for, even as you cope with difficult times. And preventive steps you can take to protect your health, including following the guidelines about social distancing and frequent handwashing to help prevent infection. And wearing face coverings to help protect others when social distancing is difficult or not possible.
You also can help boost your immune system, which includes cells and organs that work together to protect your body. As a longtime writer with a specialty in health, I talked with LaTasha Seliby Perkins, a family medicine doctor in the Washington, D.C., area, about what we all can do.
Manage stress and practice self-care. Black women can experience stress at higher baseline levels than white women, Perkins says. In the United States, Black people also can have health disparities like higher rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease when compared to other groups, partly due to things like inadequate access to care or other resources. And with health and social justice issues as continuing concerns for some, stress can come along with them. But unmanaged stress can make chronic health conditions worse. “So we want to work to manage your stress, which can also help with your immunity,” Perkins says.
Activities like meditation can help. “If you aren’t someone that has meditated before, maybe [check] out an app about meditation,” Perkins says, also suggesting activities like yoga, journaling and active reflection. (Read this Sisters story for information about free, online meditations.)
You also can try changing your mindset. Saying daily affirmations — statements intended to create self-change or remind you of things you want or believe — may help. Or consider faith-based or spiritual practices like reading devotionals, praying or listening to messages that positively move you. If you’re having trouble managing stress, or are feeling particularly down, contact a licensed health care professional.
Have balanced nutrition and good hydration. “As a family physician practicing primary care, one of the first things that I focus on for my patients is not just managing chronic medical issues, but prevention,” says Perkins. To help prevent illness, also watch what you eat.
“[The] GI tract and your gut, your throat, your stomach, your intestines, that carries a lot of your immunity,” Perkins explains. “If you want to boost your immunity, you want to make sure that you are getting fresh fruits and vegetables, that you’re eating a balanced diet, that you’re not overdoing the greasy fried foods and that you’re not doing a lot of the complex carbohydrates that aren’t good for you.” You may choose organic foods in some cases, but she adds that whether or not you can get organic food, the most important thing is to wash your fruit or vegetable, “love it and eat it.”
Also make sure you’re hydrated. Drinking water can be an effective (and cheap) way to do this, but you also can drink beverages like coffee and tea in moderate amounts and get hydration via those beloved fruits and veggies. Just limit sugary beverages and alcohol and be cautious about having too much caffeine. (Caffeine can have side effects like restlessness, and some people can be sensitive to it, so talk to our health care provider if you have questions.)
Consider supplements if needed — but be careful. Ideally, your daily diet offers great nutrition. But if you can’t afford to always buy fruits and veggies, or if you’re not going to the grocery store as often now, a multivitamin can help, Perkins says.
Just be careful. It’s possible to get too much of some vitamins and supplements, and some can affect the efficacy of certain medications or cause bad reactions. “Make sure you’re speaking to your physician about any herbs [or other supplements] that you’re taking,” says Perkins, even if you only take them sometimes.
And if you’re concerned about any potential deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamin D, which can affect Black people in particular, talk to your health care provider. (Black people have more melanin when compared to white people, so we can have more difficulty absorbing vitamin D from sunlight and can have vitamin D deficiencies.) Your provider can test you, if needed, and advise on what to do.
Get enough sleep. This may be difficult sometimes, but it’s important. “Make sure you get six to eight hours of sleep every night,” says Perkins. “Some people need more than others. Some people need less. You know how you feel. If you wake up feeling refreshed, you probably have had enough sleep. But if you find that you are hitting enough hours of sleep, but you’re still fatigued, that’s when you want to have your doctor check to make sure you’re not anemic, or it’s [not an issue with] your thyroid or something like that.”
To encourage this sleep, make your bedroom as cozy as you can and limit bedroom activities that don’t relate to sleep or sex. For instance, if you want to briefly catch up on the news, don’t do it from bed. (Learn more about best practices for sleep habits via this Sisters story.)
Don’t smoke, or quit if you do. Smoking “leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. So if you smoke, try to quit. Quitting can, of course, be difficult, and we’re not trying to make you feel bad about your habits. But you can work with your health care provider, who may suggest medication or other remedies to help you stop. The good news: When you do quit, your immune system is no longer exposed to nicotine and tar — and it will become stronger, according to resources from the National Cancer Institute. (You can visit smokefree.gov for tips on how to quit.)
Do regular physical activity. It’s important to get moving, even while social distancing. “The one thing you can do during this time is exercise,” says Perkins, noting that being outside for as little as 20 minutes can help you get vitamin D, also called “the sunshine vitamin.”
In general, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, Mayo Clinic advises. You can break up this activity and choose something that makes you happy as you socially distance, including dancing (inside or outside) or brisk walking. You may want to check in with your health care provider before starting a new fitness program.
Whatever you do, focus on what you can control when it comes to your health. And though you may be taking care of others during this pandemic, also take time to care for yourself.