Evidence-Based Wellness in the Age of COVID-19
Harness practices that reduce stress and bolster your immune system
Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, Namaste Wellness Advisor and Director of Wellness Research
The COVID-19 outbreak is a significant crisis that has affected and will continue to affect many lives. As we see communities and nations make efforts to contain the impact of COVID-19, we must also remember that one important way we can help is by calmly empowering ourselves to actively manage our stress and boost our health and immunity, and to support others in doing the same.
While we as individuals have limited control over the spread of this virus outside of personal hygiene, social distancing and quarantining, we do have control over how we care for our bodies and minds. Based on information provided by the CDC, older adults and people with chronic health conditions are most at risk for developing serious cases of coronavirus. We cannot make our bodies chronologically younger, but most of us can consciously and actively improve our health and immunity overall. We can also make efforts to facilitate wellness for our more vulnerable community members.
As much as possible, we must take responsibility for our own health - and the health of our friends, family, and neighbors - and do what we can to reduce stress and bolster our immunity.
As we face the storm of COVID-19, please do not dismiss or ignore the power of fundamental wellness practice. Research has shown that seemingly simple activities make measurable differences in our immune function. Here are some evidence-based thoughts to keep in mind and to guide you in the coming weeks and months:
Stay Calm. Fear, stress, and anxiety have a deleterious impact on our immune system. In fact, an entire field, called psychoneuroimmunology, is dedicated to the study of this relationship. Acute and chronic stress can interrupt the functional relationship between the immune and nervous system, making one susceptible to infection and increasing the risk of other chronic diseases. Thankfully, we have a range of tools that can help us lower our stress levels, improve our mood and better manage the day-to-day demands of living amidst difficult circumstances. Preliminary evidence suggests that meditation, mindfulness, and yoga can improve biological markers of immune function and activity. When stress levels get too high to manage on your own, seek support from a therapist, health care provider, meditation instructor, or Namaste coach.
Get moderate exercise. Research has demonstrated that exercising at moderate intensity boosts immunity. However, in this case, more is not necessarily better. Overtraining appears to reduce immune parameters in athletes. Endurance athletes have been shown to have a higher than average rate of contracting upper respiratory tract infections after major competitions and during intense training. In contrast, moderate exercise appears to improve immune parameters and reduce the risk of respiratory infections. In one 15-week trial, overweight women who engaged in brisk walking had 50% fewer days of being symptomatic with upper respiratory tract infections as compared to their sedentary counterparts. What does this mean? Go for a brisk walk, a bike ride, or dance in your living room. (You can even do guided yoga or fitness practices with a Namaste provider via your computer.) Get your heart rate up enough so that it is difficult to sing while exercising. If you do already have a lifestyle that includes intense exercise, make sure you allow yourself time for sufficient rest and recovery.
Eat an abundance of whole plant foods. Immune function plummets when diet is deficient in plant-based nutrients. This study, conducted more than 20 years ago, demonstrated that when colorful vegetables containing carotenoids were removed from the diet, T-lymphocyte function declined significantly. T- lymphocytes are part of the immune system and help protect the body from infection. When carotenoids (in the form of a single glass of tomato juice) were returned to the diet, function was quickly restored. A population study of US communities revealed that reductions in fruit and vegetable consumption (less than 5 servings per day) were associated with an elevated risk of influenza-related hospitalizations. Eating fruits and veggies is powerful protection against infection. Looking for an additional boost to your immune system? Consider probiotic supplementation, which has been found to reduce the risk of acquiring viral infections.
Sleep. Our bodies absolutely must have enough sleep in order to repair and maintain optimal function. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep, as insufficient sleep compromises the body’s ability to produce and release cytokines, which are the proteins that target infection and inflammation. Extra sleep does not necessarily offer additional advantage against getting sick, but insufficient sleep does put your immune system at a disadvantage.
Stay connected through virtual channels. Social distancing is a logical public health strategy to slow the spread of infection, but unfortunately, social disconnection can be a serious source of stress as well, especially if it is prolonged. Loneliness and experiences of social isolation are known to lower our immune response. Understanding this, it is important that we make efforts to remain connected even if we are physically apart. Virtual tools can be a savior in this situation. In light of the current circumstances, Namaste is expanding its virtual fitness and coaching programs as a way to help our clients get the support and connection they need to maintain wellbeing. In addition, call someone on the phone (!) or organize a gathering online. We need each other.
While public health efforts and diligent hygiene may help slow the spread of COVID-19, we would be wise to bolster our immune systems to better weather the storm. We can support one another in this process as well by offering comfort and encouragement and by tending to our more vulnerable community members. Let’s retain as much of a sense of personal empowerment as we can, even when the circumstances appear grim. Let’s not overlook the power of wellness fundamentals. Yes, follow public health protocols and take reasonable precautions. In addition, take care of yourself with an abundance of whole plant foods, moderate movement, sufficient sleep, social connection, and deliberate stress reduction. These tools will serve you now and will improve your life later, once the storm has passed. If you need support, please reach out. We are here to help.
Please note: Namaste is not a provider of medical services. We are wellness experts who believe in the power of lifestyle medicine and wellness practices to improve health and wellbeing and to reduce and prevent disease. If you are struggling with a medical emergency, we encourage you to seek support from a licensed healthcare provider. Our advice is offered as a service to the community and is not intended to replace medical advice. We believe that the best strategy is to enhance your wellness practices in conjunction with appropriate medical care.