The global experience of the COVID-19 virus is very acutely highlighting the importance of staying healthy and vital throughout our lives and especially during this pandemic. People of any age group who are healthy and vital are generally making it through the disease more quickly and with less debilitating symptoms. The GOOD NEWS is that our immune systems respond very rapidly to diet and lifestyle adjustments that everyone can make. No matter what your current state of health, there are simple diet and lifestyle adjustments that you can make that with a little diligence can quickly result in a healthier, more vital and more coronavirus-resistant you!
The same basic diet and lifestyle choices that keep you healthy and vital throughout your life are the best foundation you can build for staying healthy during this pandemic. We like to think in terms of what we call the Five Pillars of a healthy living: a healthy diet, restful sleep, adequate physical activity, stress management and healthy mindset, and connection and communion. Read below for concise but actionable advice in each of these areas.
This is the third in a series of communications through which we at Heart of Wellness are sharing our best advice for staying healthy during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Future communications will address (a) what nutritional and botanical supplements might help when combined with the food and lifestyle choices outlined below, and (b) what to do if you start to feel sick.
Please remember that the content of this communication and future communications is intended for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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STAYING HEALTHY WITH FOOD AND LIFESTYLE
As the COVID-19 coronavirus speeds its way around the world, one of the commonalities we are seeing everywhere is that people of any age group who are healthy and vital are generally making it through the disease more quickly and with less debilitating symptoms than those with chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and immune imbalance. This highlights of course the importance of staying healthy and vital throughout our lives and especially during this pandemic. Our goal in this email is to share our best advice for staying healthy and vital during this difficult time.
The GOOD NEWS is that the same basic nutrition and lifestyle choices that are the most effective treatment we know of for staying healthy and for preventing and reversing the chronic diseases of modern life are also extremely effective interventions for boosting your immune system during the COVID-19 pandemic. And it is definitely not too late to get started! Our immune systems respond very rapidly to diet and lifestyle adjustments that everyone can make. So no matter what your current state of health, there are simple diet and lifestyle adjustments that you can make that with a little diligence can quickly result in a healthier, more vital and more coronavirus-resistant you!
THE 5 PILLARS OF HEALTHY LIVING
The Five Pillars of a healthy living are (1) a healthy diet, (2) restful sleep, (3) adequate physical activity, (4) stress management and healthy mindset, and (5) connection and communion. While a thorough exploration of these pillars is far more than is possible in a single email, what follows can hopefully serve as a starting point. Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick one or two things that you can do easily and start with those. Whatever you can do will make a difference. As always our clinicians are available to educate, empower and support you with regard to all of these pillars.
Pillar One: A Healthy Diet
Eating a properly prepared nutrient-dense diet is the most important lifestyle adjustment you can make. Here are the basics of a healthy diet as they specifically apply to the goal of quickly strengthening your immune system:
- Eliminate foods that wreak havoc on your immune system. This is by far the single most important thing you can do for your health right now.
- Cut out all sugar and limit high-glycemic foods. These tend to elevate and/or create swings in blood sugar, which can significantly suppress your immune system. or High-glycemic foods are foods that quickly turn into sugar, such as bread, pasta, white rice and most starchy root vegetables. This also includes foods that are processed to eliminate fiber. Carrots are OK but carrot juice is not.
- Eliminate industrial seed oils, including canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil and safflower oil. These oils are very inflammatory and can quickly unbalance your immune system in the direction of chronic inflammation.
- Stay away from highly-processed foods as much as possible. These foods are designed by scientists to be addictive and to deliver cheap calories that are mostly devoid of any real nutritional benefit. This is true even when it is labeled “healthy”.
- Drink lots of water. If you have a tendency to pee the water out you can make your own electrolyte drink with lemon and sea salt or you can buy a sugar-free formula online.
- Eat lots and lots of multi-colored veggies. Green veggies are most important but try also to get a variety of other colors into your diet on a daily basis. The colors reflect different micronutrients that each have different positive effects on the immune system.
- Eat wild caught fish and high-quality grass-fed and regeneratively-raised meat and animal products. Do your best to eat “head to tail” by including bone broths. Try organ meats, especially liver, as they are extremely nutrient dense and very good for your immune system. Eat eggs from truly free-range chickens that have access to a natural diet that includes bugs and grubs.
- Try time-restricted eating (often called intermittent fasting). Start by limiting your food intake to a 12 hour window, ending two hours before bedtime. Once you get used to this you can consider further restricting the hours you eat down to as little as 8 hours during any 24 hour cycle.
- Consider eliminating wheat, corn and most other grains. If you are one of the people who has developed sensitivities to these foods, eating them will fuel inflammation and will keep your immune system in a depressed and imbalance state. So consider taking a holiday from these foods and see how you feel.
- Over time you will learn to tailor all this to fit your own needs. If you want help with this we have multiple naturopathic physicians and a certified nutritionist who is ready to support you with developing and fine-tuning a custom nutrition plan.
Pillar Two: Restful Sleep
Getting sufficient restful sleep is the second most important thing you can do right now to support your immune system during this crisis. Here are the basics of how to ensure you get enough restful sleep.
- Go to bed early. Create a rhythm that allows you and your family to transition into sleep with ease and comfort. If necessary set an alarm to remind you that it is time to begin this transition.
- Use blue-blocking filters on your electronic devices or blue-blocking glasses during the evening and then turn off the TV and these devices completely well before starting your sleep routine transition.
- Optimize your sleep environment. Block all light coming into your room after bedtime or consider wearing an eye mask. Make sure the temperature is comfortable and either cool or not too warm. Experiment with what weight of covers helps you to sleep best.
- Stop eating two hours before bedtime. Track and begin to understand what kinds of foods help you sleep better.
- Get outside during the day. Being outside resets your circadian rhythm and prepares your body to release melatonin in the evening.
- Practice napping. If you are at home and you can, why not rediscover the joys of napping? Even a short nap can make a huge difference for your health.
Pillar Three: Physical Activity
Physical activity is great for supporting your immune system. Don’t worry too much about what kind of activity to do or how much to do. Just do it!
- Mild and moderate and intense exercise all have their place and all are supportive of the immune system if done properly.
- Exercise fanatics and ultramarathoners should consider exercising less, while everyone else can probably benefit from being more active.
- Get outside if you can. Being outside amplifies the benefits of your physical activities.
- Physical activity does not have to look or feel like exercise. Housework or gardening or backyard projects can count too.
- Physical activity also does not need to feel like work. Play is vitally important to health and bringing play back into your life can have many benefits, including supercharging your immune system. So let yourself have fun!
- Be active together. As long as you can practice good hygiene and social distancing, staying connected while staying active can double its benefits.
Pillar Four: Stress Management and Healthy Mindset
Stress has a very direct and very significant effect on our immune system. The good news – especially during stressful times – is that managing stress for optimal health and wellbeing has more to do with building resilience and maintaining a healthy mindset than eliminating stressors in your life.
- Acknowledge anxiety and manage without suppressing it. Of course you are concerned and anxious and maybe even afraid. Acknowledge these emotions and recognize that they are reasonable, but then channel them toward a healthy goal. Don’t let negative emotions paralyze you or prevent you from taking action to help yourself and others.
- Start a daily meditation and mindfulness based stress-reduction practice. This can be as simple as deep breathing or following a guided meditation. There are lots of apps now that can help make these practices a regular part of your everyday life.
- Yoga is a great way to combine mindfulness with physical activity. You can find lots of routines to follow on Youtube and throughout the web and you can also create customized routines through apps.
- Cultivate resilience and courage in the face of challenges. Remember that what really matters is how you respond to challenges. What’s in your way IS your way. And while you can’t always control the challenges you face you do have control over how you respond to them.
- Focus on gratitude. Create lists of what you are grateful for everyday. The more you do this the more you will realize the positive in your life, and this will bring balance both to your body and your mind.
- Cultivate joy and laughter. Play with your dogs. Listen to comedians. Watch funny movies. Enjoy the giggles of children. Make a habit of this every day. Joy and laughter are physiologically incompatible with the stress response and they are also extremely potent immune tonics.
- The whole world is effectively going into a forced retreat, and this gives us each an opportunity for the kind of reset that we rarely get in our busy lives! What we make of this opportunity is up to us. You can just binge watch Netflix or you can go on a vision quest. What are you doing with this opportunity?
Pillar Five: Connection and Communion
The final pillar of healthy living involves the daily cultivation of connection and communion. Research shows that we are much healthier both when we face challenges together with family and friends and when we maintain some kind of a spiritual connection as well.
- Deepen your connections with family and friends. Research shows that staying connected with friends and family is one of the most important things you can do for your immune system as well as your overall health and wellbeing.
- Let challenges bring you together. Try to resist the temptation to respond to challenges by yourself and instead use these challenges as opportunities to bring you together.
- Fall (back) in love. With your partner, with your children, with your parents, with your friends, with life: let falling in love again be something that happens for you everyday.
- (Re)discover spirituality and/or religion. If you have spiritual or religious practices then consider what you can do to make them more of an authentic part of your everyday life. If not then experiment and explore. In addition to supporting your immune system, you might find yourself happier!
- Stay connected with a sense of purpose and service. Think about what really matters to you and do what you can to make it happen. Find some way to help people everyday. Yes this is good for your immune system too! This crisis is bringing out the best and worst in humanity. By your everyday actions you can make a big difference and if we all do this together we can make sure that it is the best part of our collective human response that wins through this crisis.
Stay tuned for more great advice in our next communication, in which we will focus on nutritional supplements that you can add to the 5 Pillars in order to further support your immune system.
We honor your strength, wisdom, resilience and courage during this difficult time.