By Rebecca Jones

System Boosters

Get Plenty of Sleep and Exercise to Stay Healthy in Stressful Times

Aside from staying home as much as possible, washing your hands and practicing social distancing, what else can you do to protect yourself from COVID-19, and possibly boost your immune system?

Double down on lifestyle optimization.

"I'm very much an advocate for healthy diet as a strategy to reduce chronic inflammation in the body and to optimize immune function," says Amy Robinson, MD, an associate professor of general internal medicine in the UNM School of Medicine who sees patients at the Lobo Care Clinic.

Robinson, who is also a fellow in the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona Andrew Weil's Center for Integrative Medicine, recommends adding in spiritual and mind-body practices.

"It's not a new concept, but try to figure out if there are other strategies to diminish stress in your life in general," she says. "For example, not that I recommend ignoring current events ... but be careful not to overload on news that makes you worry a lot."

In addition, she says, "Some people have mind-body skills, such as focusing on the positive and practicing gratitude."

Maybe you were one of those who stocked up on vitamin C and other supplements when the reality of the pandemic set in a few months ago.

Robinson says there isn't any evidence to suggest that Emergen-C and other similar supplements are effective in fighting infections. "The problem with Emergen-C is it has a lot of other chemicals in it, things that add color and flavor, and I'm not sure how good those are for people."

But, she adds, taking 500 mg to 1,000 mg of vitamin C every day could be beneficial.

"A lot of our opportunities to optimize the immune function are very simple, and really, relate back to common wisdom about diet," she says.

Every day, and especially in stressful times, she recommends eating a variety of colors of foods, such as berries and other fruits, as well as vegetables such as broccoli. Also, aim to include 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories that you consume daily.

Other everyday things people can do to try to stay healthy in times of COVID-19 include:

  • Get enough sleep. "Attention to sleep is really important," she says. "Not staying up late watching the news, but really trying to give the body and mind a little time to unwind before going to sleep."
  • Stick to a normal routine to help regulate immune function.
  • Exercise. Try to get out and move for at least 30 minutes or do exercise videos at home. You can find a variety of workouts on YouTube, and many local yoga studios offer online classes.
  • Some people are suffering from back and neck pain due to working from home on laptops and other tools that aren't ergonomic. So take breaks more often, do some gentle stretches to promote range of motion for your upper body, and walk around so you don't strain your back as much. You might have to get creative with your work setup at home, and remember to take a break every 30 minutes or so.
  • If you have chronic health problems, make sure you don't run out of medications.

And while most people are vigilant about wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing, it's smart to carry hand sanitizer with you wherever you go, Robinson says. Use it before you walk into a store, and when you climb back into your car.

Try to patronize stores that follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19 by cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and insist on wearing a mask and social distancing.

"It seems to me that people are getting fewer colds than usual, so maybe (these practices) are protecting you from the normal germs that are circulating in the community," Robinson says. "We'll see it that changes in fall and winter."

And, just as you should during cold and flu season, stay away from people who appear to be sick.

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