5 Ways to Support Your Immune Health Long Term

Ok y’all. I have to get something off of my chest. We need to start making major changes to our health, our diet, and our healthcare system. If COVID-19 isn’t enough of a wake up call that we have a problem, then we’re screwed. And the people in power are not sending us a complete picture of what we need to do to support our health. Wearing a mask isn’t going to cut it – we need to shift our focus to how we can be healthier long term. Do you want to be better prepared for the next virus? Do you want to have a better chance of avoiding illness? Then read on, my friend.

How can we support our immune system so that when the next big health scare comes, our bodies are equipped to deal with it? COVID-19 has pulled the veil off of our poor health as a nation, our high rates of co-morbidities that make us more susceptible to viruses (such as obesity and diabetes), and the woeful inadequacies of our conventional healthcare system in the United States (I’ll give you a hint – conventional healthcare is first and foremost a business, set up to profit off of us being sick). COVID-19 has exposed where we are falling short, and that we can’t rely on anyone but ourselves to take responsibility for our health.

I am going to share with you some heavy hitters in supporting overall health that are going to go much further than staying six feet away from people and wearing a mask. Sure, go ahead and wear your mask, I’m not saying not to. But do these things too for the best outcome. You owe it to yourself, to your loved ones, and to your community.

1. Get enough quality sleep

I put this as my number one for a reason. What happens when you are sleep-deprived? Perhaps you have a hard time concentrating on tasks. Perhaps you don’t have energy to get excited about the day or do the things you love. Perhaps you get home from work and instead of playing with your kids or going for a walk, you crash on the couch and turn on Netflix. Perhaps all day you’re trying to keep your energy up by feeding yourself carbs and coffee, which stress out your adrenal glands and wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels.

Even one night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as someone with Type 2 Diabetes. It can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching colds and viruses. But let’s say sleep-deprivation becomes a chronic issue that develops into long-term insomnia, followed by blood sugar dysregulation as you over-do it on carbs and caffeine for energy to stay awake. Overtime, this can lead to serious health issues like diabetes and heart disease, which put you more at risk to catching viruses such as COVID-19.

But let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom. Let’s discuss some tips for getting good zzz’s. Sleep is something I love to do and something that makes me feel good and allows me to live my best life. But I have to work on it – I have to make it a priority. My tips for getting better sleep come down to this:

  1. No screens at least an hour before bed. That includes laptops, TVs, phones, tablets, etc. Screens emit blue light, which suppresses your melatonin production, an important hormone that initiates sleep and also supports immune health. We need our bodies to produce enough melatonin and we sabotage this when we look at screens at night. If you absolutely cannot pull yourself away from a screen, install a blue-light blocker on your computer (f.lux) or phone (Twilight). But please don’t use your blue light blocker as an excuse to use electronics at night. I’m not convinced that this totally negates the adverse effects of electronics.
  2. Have a relaxing nighttime routine. Mine consists of putting on my oversize cozy robe, laying down on the couch and reading. When I feel sleepy, I put myself to bed with a recorded bedtime story (I love the app Insight Timer, but remember to put a blue light filter on your phone if using an app at night) or my rain sound machine.
  3. Consistency is very important. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time each morning (yes, weekends too!). This is from the advice of several sleep physicians I have worked with, shadowed, or taken a class from. Trust me y’all, getting enough quality sleep will make all the difference in how you feel, digest, and enjoy life. Plus, dreaming is fun.

For more tips on how to sleep, check out my post on sleep.

2. Eat well, drink water

Our diet is one of the best ways to improve our health, yet nutrition is rarely part of the conversation in the medical community and media. Why!!!!

What we eat is so darn important that I went back to school to learn more about how to eat well and teach others to do so too. Take charge of what you put in your body! We all know that eating more fruits and veggies is necessary for good health, but there are some other important details here. Buy organic as much as possible. Not because it’s a trend (not sure why or when organic became trendy), but because consuming pesticides is not good for our health, hormones, or immunity. It’s just junk that the body has to work extra hard to try to remove, and your body has other important things to do! When you buy organic, you are reducing your pesticide exposure and even increasing the nutrient quality of the foods you eat.

Cut out or greatly reduce the garbage. Garbage includes sugar, sweets, high carb foods like breads and pastas, sodas, processed foods, conventional meats, alcohol, fried foods, and vegetable oils. This doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your favorite foods, it just means you will have them sometimes as opposed to all the time and you will eat them in the context of a healthy diet.

Eating healthy is not hard to figure out, especially when you put it up against catching a serious virus or spending your hard-earned savings on medical expenses because you have health problems, which may be alleviated by improving your diet.

COVID-19 will eventually fade into the past, but our nutrition will continue to affect our health. Taking steps now to improve your nutrition will carry you so much further.

Water is huge too and greatly underestimated. Most people I work with are not drinking enough water and they know it. Enough water means half of your weight in ounces. So if you weigh 120 pounds, you want to drink 60 ounces every single day. Why? Because water helps you flush out the garbage, including toxins. It provides energy. It nourishes your skin, cells, and organs.

3. Manage stress

I know you’re stressed! We all are. I meet very few people who actually say they don’t experience stress. Our world is stressful, just admit it! Once you admit it, you’ve taken the first step. The next part is a bit trickier: managing it.

Stress is one of those things that creeps around every corner nowadays. Where stress used to mean running from a tiger (which had a start-end time), we now stress about every little and big thing from bills to politics to what’s for dinner tonight. But our body does not differentiate stress from small things versus big things. It reacts in the same way to all stressors! Imagine how many stressors you have in your day from when your alarm clock goes off in the morning to when you put your kids to bed at night and everything in between. This means we might never turn off the stress button, and it’s no wonder so many people have problems sleeping well.

What happens when you are in the state of stress for too long? Well you probably already know that it messes with your digestion. But it can have long-term side effects like insomnia, blood sugar dysregulation, adrenal fatigue, hormonal shifts, and even heart disease.

I have a great post on how to implement and stick with self-care. And if you’re a tea lover like me, take some advice from the cat and try a steaming cup of catnip tea. And a catnap too, while you’re at it.

4. Take supplements

Supplements are not a myth. Some health professionals (and even non-health professionals who maybe shouldn’t be giving health advice…) will tell you that you don’t need to take supplements. To me, this is cringe-worthy and a sorely missed opportunity to educate someone on the value of increasing their nutrient intake. Yes, there are supplements that are low-quality and you need to do a bit of research to make sure you are getting high quality supplements. But we do need them. To dial in your supplement regimen, I would suggest working with a nutritionist or naturopath. I can offer several recommendations; and now with telemedicine, our world has opened up more access to these professionals!

We can no longer get all of the nutrition we need from food. Why not? Plain and simple, the soil isn’t as nutrient-rich as it used to be, thus our food is not. And as I mentioned above, a lot of us are sleep deprived and stressed, meaning we have a greater need for additional nutrients. In addition to that, do you eat 6-9 servings of vegetables a day? If not, you need supplements.

But don’t expect supplements to cancel out a crappy diet if you are taking them alongside mac n’cheese and pizza. Supplements are called supplements for a reason – they are “supplemental” to a good diet. For instance, if you take probiotics and eat a lot of sugary foods, your probiotics won’t have a good environment to thrive in and will constantly be up against the bad bacteria that are being fed by the sugar you’re eating. You may actually experience more gas and bloating as a result.

5. Move. Especially outside.

We don’t move our bodies nearly as much as they need to be moved. Daily movement is maintenance for our joints, bones and muscles. It’s insurance for long-term health. Moving helps us sleep better at night, detoxify, and manage our stress. If you can move outside, even better. Fresh air, sunshine, and nature are all extremely beneficial.

I say movement as opposed to exercise because exercise is perhaps 30-60 minutes of dedicated time each day that you are being physically active. Which is great. But I’m talking about the movement before and after that dedicated time. A 30 min session at the gym followed by 13-15 hours of being sedentary is not healthy. We need to continue to move throughout the day. My physical therapist says that exercise is an option, but movement is not. Love it!

Take responsibility for your health

So here’s what I want to end with: we all have to take responsibility for our health. If you are concerned about your health and immunity, empower yourself with the steps above. Supporting your immune system by sleeping well, drinking lots of clean water, eating nutritious foods, taking your supplements, and moving your body is not only going to help support you during this pandemic, but it’s going to help support you for the next one and beyond. Plus, the side effects of being healthy include more joy, more energy, better sleep. So why not?

I know it can be hard to make changes to your health. It’s not as simple as giving you tips to sleep better – these are changes you have to work hard on implementing and maintaining long term. So get yourself some support. Invest in your health – hire a health coach, a naturopath, get yourself an accountability partner, join a health challenge. This pandemic is our wake-up call to start making these bigger changes, right now!

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