Many people are looking out for a miracle drug or cure to help us in this COVID19 pandemic, there are others who are hoping for a successful vaccine. However, a few seem to realize that our body has a natural defense system, which can help to give us protection from many ailments and help us to overcome them. This defense is the immune system which is a group of organs, tissues, and cells that protect the body against viruses (to include coronaviruses), bacteria, and other parasites. White blood cells are an essential component of the immune system; they fight against infectious agents and destroy them (to include cancerous cells) and they create antibodies after exposure to viruses or bacteria.
The optimal function of our immune system is really important all the time, and not just now during the COVID19 pandemic. Many persons may or may not have heard about the eight (8) laws of health or the NEWSTART principles and how they are important for our overall health, but these principles can also help our immune system to function optimally. These are nutrition, exercise, water, sunlight, temperance, air, rest, and trust in God (NEWSTART).
Nutrition There are foods and beverages that impair the function of the immune system, especially those in high sugars, such as processed foods (refined carbohydrates). Examples of these are white bread, pizza, pastries, sweet dessert, alcoholic beverages, soda etc. Foods and diets high in fats normally contribute to increased oxidative stress in the body, and when some are infected by viruses or pathogens, this also causes increased oxidative stress, which can affect the function of healthy cells in the body.
A good wholesome, healthy, and balanced diet supports a healthy immune system. This should include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and food products, which we can access in many places across the country. Try new healthy plant-based dishes, while you are home now.
The United States of America has the highest number of COVID19 cases, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2020) reports that approximately 75% of Americans’ diets are low in fruits and vegetables and most Americans exceed their recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Now that is food for thought.
Exercise- Exercise of a moderate intensity causes more of the white blood cells and other immune factors to enter the bloodstream, so when we exercise regularly there is increased surveillance of white blood cells throughout our bodies. Moderate intensity means that while we are exercising, we are breathing faster, however, we should still be able to have a conversation. Higher intensity exercises such as marathon running can put high stress on the cells and cause the immune system to not function properly, so moderate-intensity activity is the best for now.
Stress and anxiety are not uncommon now and they can also impair immune function. However, exercise can assist in reducing stress and anxiety. In a previous article, I discussed a variety of exercises and
physical activities we can do at home, aim for at least an accumulated 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 5 days for the week.
Water There is a treatment modality called “thermal hydrotherapy”, where contrasting different temperatures of water (hot and cold) on the skin can lead to increased immune response and white blood cell activity. An example of this we can do at home is after taking a hot shower (or after exercising), finish your bath with 30-90 seconds of a cold shower. This might sound crazy to many, but researches have shown where persons who have done this have improved immune response and less sickness absence days from work.
Let us consider Finland, which has far fewer cases of COVID19 and far more recoveries by numbers compared to surrounding countries Norway, Sweden, and other larger European countries. Finland, which is a cold country, has a population of over 5.3 million persons and has over 2 million saunas (hot steamy environment) which are used regularly. The contrasting of their bodies between hot and cold temperatures have been postulated as possible methods of optimizing their immune response.
Sunlight- Sunlight is also especially important to our immune health. Sunlight begins the conversion of cholesterols in the skin into vitamin D. This vitamin has been proven to improve the response of the immune system and lowers the risk of infections, including influenza. Medical history, in the past, when Sanatoriums were the designated areas for treating patients with tuberculosis (TB) before antibiotics were used in the treatment regime, doctors instructed to have the patients in sunlight.
They believed at that time that the sunlight was killing the bacteria, however, science later revealed that sunlight exposure increased vitamin D production which helped to optimize the immune system function. Please aim to get at least 20-30 mins of sunlight, 2-3 times for the week.
Temperance- Temperance is basically using good things in moderation and avoiding bad things. Two (2) things we should avoid if we wish to protect our immune health are smoking and drinking alcohol. Smokers have compromised lung health, and hence they are at increased risk of infections, for example, influenza, pneumonia and COVID19. Smoking also causes lower levels of antioxidants, such as vitamin C. Alcohol drinking has been associated with increased susceptibility to influenza and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Additionally, alcohol impairs the functions of the immune system in the gut and lungs.
Air Fresh air is really important to health. While we are isolated at home, our windows should be opened, and we should go out in yards or by our balconies and get some fresh air. Polluted air has been associated with a greater risk of lung infections and is a cause of exacerbation of lung conditions such as asthma and COPD. Additionally, it is known that viruses such as COVID19 will disperse quickly in the open air, small enclosed areas will increase the chances of contracting the virus.
Rest- The appeal is to everyone, that while we have extra hours at home please catch up on some needed sleep and get into the habit of attaining eight (8) hours of sleep each night. This is important for our immune system because chronic sleep loss is associated with immunodeficiency, increased susceptibility to infections (for example, the common cold), and even reduced immune response to vaccines. These are indications that the immune needs our body to get enough rest so that it can function optimally.
Trust (in GOD)- There are researches that have shown where faith and prayers have improved persons’ health in various religions. Dr. Harold Koenig, a renowned Psychiatrist, states that religious persons tend to have better immune systems, less likely to be hospitalized and if they are, they tend to have sooner discharges. Trust in God also helps with a lot of fear and anxiety many people are experiencing with the pandemic and the effects of it, now more than ever individually and as a nation, we need to pray and have faith.
Please remember wearing a mask in public, washing or sanitizing hands and cleaning commonly used surfaces regularly, good hygiene and social distancing are still important methods of preventing the spread of coronaviruses, and should always be practiced. The eight (8) laws of health or N.E.W. S.T.A.R.T. will help to improve our health and optimize our immune system’s function and can be incorporated easily into our lives, an example is given:
You go to bed early and get around 8 hours of sleep (rest), you get up the next morning and prayed for good health and strength (trust in God), then went for 30 minutes of brisk walking (exercise) in open fresh air (air) with your skin appropriately exposed to the sunshine (sunlight). On arriving home you drank some water, and have the shower ending with 30-90 seconds of cold shower (water), then have a fruit and balanced breakfast with more vegetables and less sugars and fats (nutrition) and the pace yourself with activities and monitor your diet throughout the day and avoid smoking and drinking (temperance).
Adrian Palmer, PT, BScPT, PAPHS Clinic Director – Arukah Physio + Ltd. Registered Physical Therapist (RPT) ACSM/NPAS Physical Activity in Public Health Specialist [email protected] Tel/WhatsApp: 868-314-3639