When we talk about giving our immune system a boost, we tend to think of it as one thing that needs a jump start.
In fact - as the name suggests - it’s a complex system made up of lots of different parts and processes.
That complexity means there are still lots of question marks when it comes to figuring out exactly how our immune system works and the best way to support it.
First, let’s take a look at how our bodies respond to a new virus.
How does our immune system react to viruses?
There are two parts to our immune systems response: a quick-fire initial reaction and a longer, more specific response to the exact virus or bacteria it’s fighting.
The first part is called the innate immune system. Its job is to detect the virus and create an initial response aimed at limiting its spread.
This first response isn’t specific to the virus, but a broad anti-viral response. The small proteins released cause side effects that can make us feel under the weather, such as headaches, fever and muscle aches.
“This response serves two purposes: to slow down the replication and spread of the virus, keeping us alive until the ‘acquired immune response’ kicks in (which, for a virus we haven’t seen, is about 2 to 3 weeks),” explains Dr Michael Skinner, Reader in Virology at Imperial College London.
Based on what we know about how our immune systems work, the best way to boost our immune system and give our bodies the best chance of fighting an illness like coronavirus is to take care of ourselves by following a healthy lifestyle.
Here are seven ways to make sure your body is in the best possible condition to fight coronavirus.
Smoking is the largest cause of preventable deaths in the world. Cigarettes contain over 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known carcinogens (cause cancer). From blood circulation to brain function, lung capacity to hormone levels, smoking affects so many different parts of your body.
As coronavirus is a respiratory disease, being a smoker may put even more pressure on your lungs if you become ill. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced: “It is abundantly clear from the research into previous coronaviruses that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse.”
It’s never too late to quit. Within just 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure and pulse begin to return to normal and lung fibres begin to move more. Eight hours later, your oxygen levels start to increase - something that’s essential in the fight against COVID-19.
To get help quitting, take a look at the government’s free support tools for quitting smoking.
When we feel stressed, our body goes into fight or flight mode. Designed to help us deal with short-term emergency situations, this mode shuts off or suppresses systems we don’t need in an emergency such as digestion, reproduction and immune function.
Whilst this may be helpful in the short-term, if our stress levels remain high over a long period, this begins to take its toll on those systems.
To help us fight infections such as COVID-19, we need to try and control our stress levels to help our immune system function at its best. Take a look at our article on dealing with change-related stress for some tips.
Eat a rainbow
Food is our body’s fuel. By eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables we can make sure we get the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy.
Whilst it’s tempting to snack on junk food whilst working at home, try and prioritise eating 5 portions of fruit and veg a day as well as minimising high sugar and high fat foods.
Eating right will also help you maintain a healthy weight.
Maintain a healthy weight
We’re still learning about coronavirus but early studies seem to indicate that obesity increases the risk of developing serious complications if you catch COVID-19.
France’s Chief Epidemiologist, Jean-François Delfraissy, recently warned that “those who are overweight really need to be careful”.
A March report by the Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre (icnarc) found that around 65% of ICU admissions were overweight.
It’s thought that carrying extra weight puts pressure on the lungs as well as increasing inflammation in the body, both of which put extra strain on someone struggling with COVID-19.
Maintaining a healthy weight involves eating healthily, eating the right amount and keeping active.
For support losing weight, take a look at the NHS’s step-by-step weight loss plan.
Drink in moderation
Though we might not be going out to pubs or restaurants, it can still be easy to slip into the habit of drinking too regularly or too much whilst at home.
Alcohol is toxic, so as soon as it comes into contact with the body, will immediately try to break it down and remove it
- The liver which breaks the toxicity down into water and carbon dioxide.
- The lungs breathe out alcohol molecules as you exhale, which is why you can smell alcohol on those who have been drinking.
- The kidneys through urine, which is why you go to the toilet frequently when drinking.
- Sweat through glands across the body.
The liver works the hardest and can break down one unit of alcohol per hour. If alcohol is drunk faster or in higher quantities, this is when we begin to feel drunk.
If you’re drinking, be sure to keep within government guidelines of no more than 14 units a week. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol and is equivalent to:
- A small glass (125ml) of 9% ABV wine.
- Half a pint of 3.5% ABV bitter or lager.
- A single measure (25ml) of 38%-40% ABV spirits.
From keeping your heart and lungs in great shape to boosting your mood, there are so many benefits to staying active.
As well as strengthening your muscles and improving your brain health and memory, it significantly reduces the risk of serious diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease by up to 50%.
Even at home, there are plenty of exercises you can do to stay active. Take a look at our blog post on easy bodyweight exercises to get started.
Get enough rest
Quantity and quality matter when it comes to getting enough rest and sleep. Adults need around 8 hours of good quality sleep, but this can vary from person to person.
Sleeping badly on a regular basis has now been linked to serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It can also shorten your life expectancy.
However getting enough shut-eye can boost your mood, support your immune system and even help you maintain a healthy weight!
This is because sleep is an incredibly important recovery mechanism for our bodies. It allows us to restore and repair, vital when it comes to fighting infections and staying healthy.
Need more tips on getting a good night’s sleep? Take a look at our recent post on sleep hacks.