7 Easy Ways to Boost Immunity Right Now, According to the Experts
These are strange times. We went from 60 to zero, and some days we don’t know what day of the week it is. We’ve been wearing the same sweats and PJ combo for days. Our hair is in need of a colorist, and it's hard to stay away from the pantry snacks. But while we can’t control the unsettling coronavirus situation, we are in the driver’s seat of one very important thing as we hunker down at home: how we feel, both physically and emotionally. Assuming we’re lucky enough to be in good health—and what a blessing that is—there are some beneficial things experts say we should do right now to stay healthy. Below, nutritionists and docs weigh in on key practices we all can do at home right now, in the comfort of our socks.
1. Prioritize your sleep health
As the author of Eat To Sleep: What To Eat & When To Eat It for a Good Night's Sleep, Karman Meyer, RDN, LDN, knows a thing or two about the importance of maintaining proper sleep hygiene. Between late-night marathon sessions of Netflix’s Love Is Blind and waking up before dawn with racing thoughts, most of us have thrown good sleeping habits out of the window. Time to change that!
“As a dietitian focused in the area of sleep health and stress reduction, I prioritize sleep hygiene in order to stay healthy and keep immune function up. We should aim for seven-to-eight hours of sleep a night and there are several ways what we eat or drink during the day can impact how well we sleep,” says Meyer. One of her best tips? Don’t overeat dinner or engage in a 10 p.m. "second dinner" habit due to stress (guilty as charged). “Going to bed with an overstuffed stomach can cause indigestion and discomfort while sleeping," she adds.
"At a time when many of us spending more time at home and possibly not sticking to a meal routine, there's a tendency to overeat, especially later at night,” she warns. Do your best to eat slowly and consciously at a proper table—in-bed, late-night snackers, we’re looking at you—and skip fried or sugary foods after dusk.
2. Support your mental health
Just because the couch is your new command center, doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of great resources right now to give your mood a lift. Try meditation apps like Headspace (which is currently offering some free meditation tracks designed to help you weather the storm) and yoga classes like Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
If you feel like you need to talk to a professional right now (raises hand), try Talkspace, which provides text, audio, and video-based therapy from licensed therapists. You can also get help from psychiatrists should you feel you need psychiatric treatment. FYI: The difference is psychiatrists are licensed MDs and can prescribe medication.
There are also countless podcasts that can help right now. I'm a huge fan of Natural MD Radio by Aviva Romm, MD, suggests Melissa Groves, RDN, LD, author of A Balanced Approach to PCOS. “Romm uses an integrative approach to women's wellness and shares actionable, easy to understand, tips. She's also been writing COVID-19 update articles on her site as it relates to women's health,” adds Groves.
3. Focus on free movement rather than forced exercise
We’re stealing this one out of Gabrielle Kahn’s, MS, RD, playbook. The nutritionist shared that this is something she’s doing right now in order to be attuned to what her body needs right now and act accordingly.
“I am not creating an exercise schedule, but rather listening to what my body wants and how it would like to move. For example, I’ve found myself walking more, enjoying dance and stretching exercises instead of the strength training exercises that I normally do,” she shares. “Rather than beating myself up for this change, I am allowing myself to honor my body’s needs, since it is a more stressful time, and our mental, physical, and overall well being is much more important than a structured exercise routine that may cause more stress for us right now,” she continues. Your permission to go walk, dance to Kesha, or just stretch!
4. Upgrade your water, to add fruits with benefits
No, fresh lime juice in your water isn’t going to cure any disease, but it may help boost your immune system, and it sure makes just-another-day-on-house-patrol feel a touch more spa-like. Citrus, whether it's lemon or lime, is high in vitamin C, so you can feel like you're hydrating and supplying your body with a necessary element it needs to fortify its defenses.
“Add fresh fruit and herbs to your water to boost immunity: Lemons, limes, oranges all have vitamin C, which helps boost your immune system and helps your white blood cells fight infection,” says family physician Monique May, MD, author of MealMasters: Your Simple Guide to Modern-Day Meal Planning. May is also a fan of grating some fresh ginger into a cup of hot water or incorporating a few sprigs of basil, the former has anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants, while the latter has yet more vitamin C.
5. Healthy foods are still good for you, even if they’re canned or frozen
We know, we know. Getting fresh food, of any kind, right now can be a challenge, so don't feel you're cheating your health if you instead turn to canned or frozen veggies. These are both great options to ensure you’re getting as many vitamins and minerals throughout the day as possible, whether you add them to your smoothie, your salad or pasta sauce.
“To help your immune system, you should consume foods with a high vitamin content," advises Alex Turnbull, a family-focused RD. But right now, "for some families and individuals, accessing food is a challenge. This is where frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables can also play a critical role in our diets. At this time, know that any fruit or vegetable is better than none!”
Turnbull stresses the importance of foods rich in vitamins A and D. For the former, she recommends vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. For the latter, plant-based eaters should turn to mushrooms and fortified grains. She’s also a huge advocate of loading up on zinc, with legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and beans. Canned chickpeas or beans are a great staple to keep on hand for salads.pastas and stirfries.
6. Get more fiber, because your gut health is your whole health
If you’re following tip 5, chances are you're doing this already, but make an extra effort right now to boost your fiber intake. Did you know most of your immune cells are located in your gut? It's important to "keep your gut microbes healthy with adequate fiber sources for a strong immune system,” explains Erin Judge, RD.
The recommended daily amount according to the American Heart Association is 25 grams a day on a 2,000 calorie diet for adults. Men need more, up to 38 grams a day. Judge’s favorite sources of fiber include oats, flax or chia seeds, berries, quinoa, sweet potatoes, broccoli florets, and lentils. Have a field day, fellow plant-based eaters and the vegan-curious!
7. Skip the booze cruise and feel better tomorrow
America is drinking its way through this CODI-19 crisis, and there is a substantial uptick in alcohol, both wines and spirits. More than half of all Americans are boozing it up, and about one-quarter of us are binge drinking (defined as four drinks at a time for women or five in a sitting for men), so it is worth repeating that this doesn't solve anything and can leave you feeling worse the next day.
“Despite the temptations and abundant stress we all face right now, it’s important to avoid a lot of alcohol," says Lisa Doggett, MD, MPH. For women, drinking no more than one drink a day (one beer, one glass of wine, or equivalent) is the recommended limit. For men, the limit is two a day, she cautions. “Larger amounts of alcohol have been linked to liver disease and many forms of cancer.”
On that note, we’re raising our seltzer-lime-ginger elixir for our Zoom happy hour in your honor, as you try to live healthier. Bonus, avoid a hangover, which is even less fun when you feel like the world is going to end. So, yes, we’ll gladly steer clear of ‘em.