Bulletproof Immune System

Concerned about the spread of diseases and pathogens? Prep your body to fight off disease effectively and Bulletproof your Immune System.

Disclaimer: Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP/healthcare professional before making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle or if indeed you feel you are suffering from any type of disease.

Introduction

With the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, people have become more conscious of the need for optimally functioning, immune systems.  It has caused many people to ponder whether there are further measures they can take to boost their immune systems and stay healthy.  Naturally preventative measures and guidelines such as effective hand-washing, social distancing, and maintaining good hygiene will go a long way in reducing the risk of infection. 

However, there is evidence that good nutrition and other positive lifestyle measures can influence immune strength and susceptibility to infectious diseases. Although these measures may or may not influence susceptibility to COVID-19 or its clinical course is not yet known. However, there is every reason to put our knowledge about nutrition and enhancing the immune system to use at this time. Most of them are free and anyone can undertake them!

The Immune System

Immune System. Immune system facts. Covid-19. Coronavirus. Boosting immune system.

The immune system is a complex network of cells, organs, proteins and antibodies that work to protect us against illness and disease. Whilst we usually only think of our immune system when we feel ill, in fact it’s always working in the background to ensure that our bodies remain disease free.

The first line of defence against microbes. A mechanical barrier against invading organisms.  Protects the body against physical forces such as extremes of temperature, radiation and various chemicals.  Produces secretes important antimicrobial proteins.

Produces both new WBC’s (White Blood Cells – infection fighters), RBC’s (Red Blood Cells – oxygen providers and carbon dioxide removers) as well as stems cells that develop into a variety of cell types (neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, mast cells, monocytes, dendritic cells, and macrophages which are all important cell types in the immune response world).

Immune cells travel through the bloodstream searching for potential invaders to the body (Like patrolling motorcycle cops on a freeway looking for perpetrators). This access allows fast deployment of immune cells to any part of the body whenever a pathogen (disease causing organism) is detected.

The Thymus is a small organ located in the upper chest, between their breast bone and their heart. T-cells (a type of WBC formed in the bone marrow) mature in the thymus.  This organ is very important for new born babies, their immune systems are dependant on the Thymus. As we get older we are not as dependant on the Thymus and it can be removed if it becomes cancerous.

A network of vessels and tissues composed of lymph (an extracellular fluid containing infection-fighting WBC’s), and lymphoid organs, such as lymph nodes. The lymphatic systems primary duties are to transport lymph throughout the body and to assist in removal of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials.

The lymphatic vessels are similar to the veins and capillaries of the circulatory system in terms of how they are distributed within the body.  Immune cells are carried through the lymphatic system and converge in lymph nodes, where the lymph is then filtered. The tonsils, adenoidsspleen and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system.

The spleen is an organ located behind the stomach. Its role is to filter the blood in search of foreign cells (such as bacteria) as well as to remove for old RBC’s that need replacing.  When the spleen detects foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms in the blood it will create WBC’s called lymphocytes (the lymph nodes also produce these).  Lymphocytes produce antibodies to kill the foreign microorganisms and stop the infection from spreading.

People who have had a splenectomy (spleen removal) are more prone to infections and illness in comparison to people with spleens.

Mucosal surfaces are prime entry points for pathogens, and specialised immune hubs are strategically located in mucosal tissues like the respiratory tract and gut.

(Aka pharyngeal tonsils) lie at the rear of the nasal cavity and help to filter air and destroy microorganisms. 

Powerful Hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in the gastric juices help to destroy ingested organisms.

Two pairs of tonsils are found at the back of the mouth (on either side of the pharynx and at the base of the tongue).  They help guard against inhaled microbes.

Nostril hairs trap airborne particles; mucus and cilia hairs in the lining of the nose and trachea (windpipe) trap and remove dust, microorganisms and debris.

Small Intestine

Digestive enzymes, including those in pancreatic juices attack microbes that survive the stomach.

 

Large Intestine

The body’s natural gut flora (‘friendly’ bacteria and other microorganisms) suppress unwanted, harmful microbes.

Salivary Glands produce antibacterial saliva, while mucus and saliva trap airborne particles in the throat.

One of a few clusters of lymphoid nodules in the lower part of the small intestine.  Helps to protect against microbes ingested in food.

There are a number of different immune cell types that either circulate throughout the body or live within a particular tissue. Each immune cell type has a unique role, with different ways of identifying problems, communicating with other cells, and performing its functions.

Immune System. Immune system facts. Covid-19. Coronavirus. Boosting immune system.
The body has a variety of Immune Cells types each with different roles and functions.

When the immune system first recognises a problem (detects a foreign bacteria or virus), it responds to address that problem (immune response). If an immune response doesn’t occur when the need arises, problems occur (such as infection).  Disease generally does not appear overnight and tends to develop slowly sometimes over many years as subtle and overt signs of a decline in health are ignored.

Potential causes of disease and illness.

Diseases can occur for a number of reasons, some may be caused by a number of reasons each impacting upon the other.  Below are a number of potential causes of disease and illness.

Germ warfare. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Pathogens, seemingly everywhere!

A disease caused by pathogens transmitted by air.

An illness resulting from the consumption of contaminated food with pathogenic bacteria, toxins, viruses, prions or parasites.

Aka transmissible diseases/communicable diseases, disease that commonly spreads from one person to another or can spread from one person to another, but does not necessarily spread through everyday contact.

Diseases may can also be the result of external factors such exposure to toxins, radiation and EMF’s (Electro Magnetic Frequencies) that may damage or corrupt human cells. For example, overuse of cell phone (continuous contact with the head), living close to RF (Radio-Frequency) emitting cell phone towers and broadcasting antennas (5G towers) or continued exposure to sources of ionising radiation (X-rays) or solar radiation (frequent flyers or pilots).

Diseases related to poor life choices such as sedentary lifestyle or a diet high in unhealthy foods. These diseases appear to increase in frequency as countries become more industrialised and people live longer.

The lymphatic vessels are similar to the veins and capillaries of the circulatory system in terms of how they are distributed within the body.  Immune cells are carried through the lymphatic system and converge in lymph nodes, where the lymph is then filtered. The tonsils, adenoids, spleen and thymus are all part of the lymphatic system.

This can be either as a result of a) damage caused by chemicals that are made outside of our bodies that can harm our cells if they are ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into the bloodstream; or b) Cellular damage caused by toxins that are produced inside of the digestive tract by microorganisms.

Disease and dysfunction are accelerated when we are deficient in any of the following. Nutrients, physical and emotional rest, sunlight and fresh air, love and sense of purpose.

Cellular damage caused by chronic emotional stress, chronic fear and anxiety.  Sources can include relationship issues, grief after tragedy, high stress from work or life, bullying or harassment, constant negative news feeds from sources such as mainstream media.

12 Immunity Boosting Strategies

Bulletproofing Immune System. Immune system facts.

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1. Sleep

Improved sleep quality. Cold water showers. Benefits of cold water bathing. Hydrotherapy. Lifestyle. Super Soldier Project.

Sleep and immunity are closely tied. Our bodies need sleep to rest and regenerate. Inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to various forms of sickness (for example heart disease and obesity).

Although research into how sleep and the immune system are still developing, some things are clear.

  • On average, adults should be looking at roughly seven or more hours of sleep each night (children will need much more than this).
  • Poor sleep has been linked to suppressed immune function (You’re more likely to catch a cold or other infection when you’re not getting enough sleep).
  • We usually need more sleep when sick to allow the immune system to fight illness more effectively whilst the rest of the body shuts down.
  • Sleep deprivation elevates cortisol levels.  Which over time wears down the immune system leaving us vulnerable to fight off infection.
  • Sleep deprivation may also lead to more inflammation in the body.

Barriers to good sleep

Try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm (the body’s natural wake-sleep cycle).

Improve sleep quality by sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask.  Try going to bed at the same time every night, and avoiding watching or reading over-stimulating content such as action books or films prior to bedtime. Also avoid caffeine and alcohol, for several hours before bedtime as both can interfere with the bodies sleeping mechanisms.

In short:

  • Inadequate sleep can compromise your immune system, aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
  • Promote good quality sleep by aiming to wind down at least an hour or so before bedtime.

2. Healthy Diet

Nutrition. Train Anywhere, Anytime. No Excuses. Super Soldier Project.

Consuming a balanced diet and eating the recommended amounts of nutrients will help maintain normal immune function.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, nutrients, vitamins and minerals such as zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12 are all important in supporting immune function.  Try to get these via natural sources (plant-based foods, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices) where possible rather than just using supplements. Each one plays a unique role in supporting immune function. Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight off infection.

Protein

Relax all you carnivores, because protein is also critical for immune health. The amino acids in protein help build and maintain immune cells, and cutting back on this macronutrient can lower the body’s ability to fight infections. Meat is back on the table! Look at leaner cuts of good quality protein sources such as Beef, Turkey or Chicken.

If you eat a balanced diet, there is no need to take supplements for vitamins and minerals and taking extra will not be beneficial to your immune system.  Many people even in first world societies sadly do not receive adequate nutrition.  There are many, many reasons for this including poor nutritional awareness, cultures with preferences for unhealthy diets to financial reasons. These populations tend to be more susceptible to infection and certain types of illnesses.  Be aware of your deficiencies (if any) and try to compensate for them in your diet.

The following nutrients play a role in the immune system and can be found in a variety of foods:

Vitamins and minerals. Healthy nutrition. Immune system. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Try and include the essential vitamins and minerals in your diet to boost your immune system.

Found in plant foods, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.

Cod liver oil. Eggs. Milk. Orange and yellow vegetables and fruits. Broccoli, spinach, and most dark green, leafy vegetables.

Turkey and beans, as well as potatoes, spinach, and enriched cereal grains.  B12 – Meats, milk, and fish

Rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.

Found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk.

Almonds, peanuts and hazelnuts, and vegetable oils, such as sunflower, wheat germ, corn and soybean oils.

Beef, seafood,  also is in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.

Milk and yogurt, pork, beef, turkey, chicken, fish, shellfish, and eggs.

Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract. Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help the immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and invading micro-organisms.  Probiotics can be found in cultured dairy products (certain types of yogurt) and in fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto etc).

Milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

Cloves, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cumin contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of food-spoiling bacteria.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens.

Healthy fats such as Omega 3 fatty acids (found in olive oil, chia seeds and salmon) may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.

Food and drink that may compromise the immune system:

No sugar. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Watch that sugar intake!

Sugars

There is an abundance of research already establishing the link between added sugars and increased weight gain and obesity. Many governments and organisations around the world have created nutrition guides based on eating plates (for example USDA’s MyPlate or the UK’s ‘Eatwell Plate’).

The UK model suggests we should limit our sugar intake to less than 5% of our daily calories (approximately 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet). The USDA model suggests that we try to remove sugar altogether! If our sugar intake is higher than 5% we are increasing our chances of health problems such as increased inflammation, obesity and chronic diseases. 

With regards to the immune system sugar is notorious for putting the system into temporary shutdown. Basically when a sugar molecule and bacteria is encountered by Neutrophils (the most abundant WBC’s in the body) they tend to choose the sugar over the bacteria. Effectively a chunk of Black Forest Gateau can shut down your immune system for several hours, leaving us vulnerable to pathogens!

Refined grains

Examples of refined grains include white flour, instant rice, enriched pasta, fast food. These contain few nutrients and little fibre compared to the natural whole grains sources from which they are derived from.

With regular consumption of these types of food (containing pesticides, chemical additives, preservatives etc) comes the increased risk of a weakened immune system leaving us vulnerable to the development of chronic conditions.

Furthermore as mentioned above, neutrophils will target high sugar over bacteria so this compromises the immune system. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that the ability of WBC’s to kill bacteria is significantly hindered for up to 5 hours after eating 100 gm of processed foods.

Alcohol

Alcohol is known to cause long-term serious consequences for a person’s body and mind. Indeed it is known to impede the ability of the immune system to fight infection and disease.

Long term alcohol abuse can impair the digestion of nutrients due to damage caused to cells in the digestive tract.  It can also impact on the liver’s ability to store important vitamins and minerals. Other detrimental effects it has been linked with include interfering with enzymes required for digestion and lowering WBC production. 

In short, lack of nutrient absorption gives the body a reduced chance of repair and immune defence, and WBC reduction reduces our natural defence against pathogens.

In short:

  • Focus on a balanced eating plan to keep the immune system healthy.
  • 5-10 servings of vegetables and fruits daily to get necessary vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support immune system.
  • More plant-based foods (add fruits and veg to soups and stews, smoothies, salads, or as snacks).  Many plant foods contain antioxidants, fibre, and vitamin C, all of which may lower your susceptibility to illness.
  • Healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3s are highly anti-inflammatory. Since chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system, these fats may naturally combat illnesses.
  • Gut health and immunity are interconnected. Fermented foods and probiotics may bolster your immune system by helping it identify and target harmful pathogens.
  • Foods with Anti-inflammatory and Anti-Oxidants are great for bolstering the immune system.
  • Added sugars contribute significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, all of which can suppress your immune system. Lowering your sugar intake may decrease inflammation and your risk of these conditions.

3. Regular Exercise

Functional Training Methods. Battleropes. Full Body Workouts. Core Workouts. Super Soldier Project.

It is well documented that regular exercise can lower your risk of developing chronic diseases. For example, obesity, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as viral and bacterial infections.

Exercise is also known to increases endorphin (hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure) release which makes it a great stress management tool (especially in times of high stress such as the current coronavirus lockdown situation).  Stress negatively impacts our immune system, therefore exercise is a great way to put that negative energy to a more positive use.

Recovery

It is worth noting that prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system during the recovery period.  This is where your body is healing and adapting to the demands of the exercise.  For people well used to training and exercise this will probably not be an issue. People leading active lifestyles generally tend to have lower incidences of both acute illnesses and chronic illnesses in general.

However you may want to rethink the amount of training and rest days you are undertaking throughout the week.  The more you do the more vulnerable you become during the recovery phase post exercise.  So bear this in mind, make sure you don’t overdo it and leave your self exposed at the present time.

AMRAP workouts. Kettlebell exercises. Interval training. EMOM. TABATA. Best exercises to lose belly fat.
Overstressed? Put any excess cortisol to good use with regular workouts.

For anyone new to exercise, immunocompromised, already ill or elderly they may want to rethink exercise that is extremely vigorous.  In these cases moderate exercise can provide the boost to the immune system required without leaving the body vulnerable post exercise.

Moderate exercise has been shown to reduce inflammation and help immune cells regenerate more effectively.  Examples of moderate exercise include walking, cycling, swimming or jogging. 

According to the CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), adults should aim to get (at least) 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like walking, jogging, or cycling) or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise (like running) each week.  You should also include some type of resistance training, such as weights (dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells), bodyweight exercises or functional training methods. 

In short:

  • Exercise is a great way to promote good health and develop a healthy immune system.
  • Balance is key at this period in time, don’t leave yourself too rundown in recovery and leave yourself vulnerable.
  • Moderate exercise can reduce inflammation and promote the healthy turnover of immune cells. Jogging, biking, walking, swimming, and hiking are great options.

4. Proper Hydration

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Our levels of hydration can have a huge impact on our immune systems.  Drinking water improves the transportation system that is our blood vessels and lymphatic systems.  Nutrients and oxygen are able to be distributed around the body to where they are needed as well as the removal of toxins to the kidneys for excretion.

All our bodily functions and movements produce toxins as a by-product into the bloodstream.  These toxins need to be filtered out of the body.  They have no use and can become pathogenetic (disease causing) if they remain in our bodies for too long.  The body utilises a number of systems all working in unison to remove these toxins.  These include the respiratory system (lungs), circulatory system (blood vessels) the integumentary system (skin) and the renal system (kidneys and bladder).  If we are not adequately hydrated then the transportation system (circulatory and lymphatic systems) don’t function as efficiently.  This can leave us in a toxic state and increase the likelihood of disease.

Lowered Cognitive Abilities

Poor hydration also can impact upon bodily functions which can affect immune function non-directly.  Overall physical and mental performance can be affected since the organs cannot function effectively without the oxygen and nutrients to power them.  Poor mental function through dehydration means poor focus, mood, and cognitive abilities. This extends to our sleep patterns since insomnia can sometimes be linked to dehydration.  The brain needs water to produce melatonin (a hormone important in sleep).  It essentially leaves us unable to concentrate and tackle daily tasks and chore effectively.

Dehydration can also lead to under-functioning digestive systems.  If we don’t drink enough water, we may become constipated, or develop even more severe digestive problems.

Overall poor hydration can equal decreased overall function, poor digestion, low energy levels, muscle fatigue and low immune systems.  Additionally, if WBC’s and other immune system responses cannot get to where they need to in the body, then this leaves us compromised.

In short:

  • Drink plenty of water each day, to ensure you are well hydrated, to flush disease causing toxins out of your system.
  • About 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) of fluids for men
  • About 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) of fluids a day for women
  • Keep an eye on your urine colour. If you are adequately hydrated it should be pale yellow, if it’s much darker you may need to drink more. Darker means there is more toxins in there, pale means they are being filtered out effectively.
  • Drink more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or are exposed to extremely hot weather. 
  • Older adults and immunocompromised need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
  • Water is king.  Be wary with caffeine as it will dehydrate you.  Limit the intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar contents.

5. Stress Management

Stress levels. The Great Outdoors. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

Relieving stress and balancing emotional health is key to good and effective immune system health.  Sadly many people choose to ignore their stressors (factors that influence stress levels) despite the major influence they have on our immune systems.  Our emotional health (how we feel and react to the world) affects the decisions we make and how we react to situations and events.  They are the basis from which all of our daily choices are made.

Mild stress can be a very a good motivator for the body. This is effectively how we learn to adapt to our environment, by how we manage, react and deal with stressors.  If we have good management and problem solving skills in place then stress will not impact us as significantly.

Long Term Stress

Long term stress on the other hand, can lead to chronically elevated levels of as the hormone cortisol. The body uses cortisol during periods of high stress (the fight or flight response) to prepare the body for action. This is fine in the short term, however if the body and mind are under continued stress, cortisol levels continue to remain high.  The resultant high levels have a detrimental effect on the body effectively stopping the immune systems from functioning properly and unable to protect the body from pathogens

Another negative impact of long term stress is how it raises the level of catecholamines hormones. This means increased levels of WBC’s (in this case suppressor T cells) that actually suppress the immune system. When this branch of the immune system is impaired, we become more susceptible to pathogenic illnesses including respiratory conditions influenza and COVID 19. 

The impact of negative news sources. Mainstream media. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Negative reinforcement via the mainstream media. Do you really need it? Look for facts not scaremongering.

Information Overload

Before the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdowns, high levels of stress were already notoriously high (stressful work-roles, long commutes, poor work-life balances etc).  However the current climate has introduced new fears and anxieties to the mix.  Fear of losing job, loss of income, fear of infection, food shortages, looming economic collapse, uncertainty of the whole situation, just to name a few.  It is apparent, that levels of stress in our populations are undoubtedly at an all time collective high. 

The mainstream media certainly does not help with the constant bombardment of negative news (often sensationalist, cutting corners with the actual science information).  Indeed, some may even be politically motivated to sway to one side of a particular argument even if it flies in the face of current accepted science.  In short this bombardment is a reinforcement and perhaps an amplifier of all our worst fears and anxieties. Do we need that? No. Is it good for our well being? Almost certainly not.

The stress that this type of information overload can cause is underestimated as a direct cause of disease and illness. It is sadly not given the attention that it due. This may be because it’s difficult to actually address every person’s personal anxieties and fears as and tolerance levels. 

Switching off

The simple answer in dealing with this information is to ignore it.  Switch off the news, don’t have it playing in the background, don’t listen to it on the radio, don’t seek updates. If you need advice, then go and seek it from the experts.  Look on medical or professional sites and see what they are advising rather than mainstream media sources.

There are many effective stress management techniques available including meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. Go for a walk, leave everything behind you (phone included) and just be alone with nature. See for yourself the benefits of disconnecting every once in a while.  Use them to your advantage and observe the impact they have over your mental and physical health.

In short:

  • Stress levels and emotional health are directly linked to the immune system and how effective it functions.
  • Be aware of the impact of high levels of stress. Don’t ignore them.
  • Address your stressors directly and develop good coping mechanisms to deal with them.
  • Consider activities such as meditation, yoga, exercise, and other practices to lower your stress levels and keep your immune system functioning properly.
  • Ignore sources of negative information such as the mainstream media.
  • Look up the experts for facts and research relevant to issues that concern you.

6. Positive Attitude

Visualisation. Creating a Positive Mindset. Will to win. Super Soldier Project.

Do all good things come to those with a positive attitude?  Numerous studies appear to suggest so.  These studies have demonstrated that our psychological well-being could  help people improve immune responses and bolster resistance towards diseases.  Furthermore having an optimistic outlook has been shown to overcome disease, aid recovery from surgery and is associated with longevity.

Optimism

With regards to optimism and immunity, studies have shown that a brighter outlook is associated with better mood, higher numbers of helper T cells, and higher natural killer cell cytotoxicity.  In addition to behavioural advantages, optimism may have biological benefits that improve health. A 2008 study of 2,873 healthy men and women found that a positive outlook on life was linked to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, even after taking age, employment, income, ethnicity, obesity, smoking, and depression into account. Other possible benefits of the study included reduced levels of adrenaline, improved immune function, and less active clotting systems.

Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you have to be carefree and simply ignore stressful situations and events when they occur. On the other hand it is much more proactive and involves engaging rather than ignoring stressful situations in a more positive and productive way. In a way that will be far more beneficial for you than if you choose to ignore it. It involves confronting situations with steadfast resolve and aiming for the best possible outcomes. Having a positive attitude is essentially effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits.

Effective Stress Management

Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you have to be carefree and simply ignore stressful situations and events when they occur. On the other hand it is much more proactive and involves engaging rather than ignoring stressful situations in a more positive and productive way. In a way that will be far more beneficial for you than if you choose to ignore it. It involves confronting situations with steadfast resolve and aiming for the best possible outcomes. Having a positive attitude is essentially effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits.

Putting Positive attitude into practice

Identifying Negative coping mechanisms

All negative emotions impact upon the functions of the body (usually in a negative way).  Continuously engaging in negative thoughts and feelings can result in the dramatic increase of cortisol levels.  If this continues over long periods it can overstress and wear out the immune system. 

The stresses of the current situation with COVID-19 is has left people’s imaginations running rampant.  One can only imagine the damage that is being done to people’s psychological health as society has to deal with measures in society that are entirely alien to us.  This kind of stress can leave us thinking and acting in irrational manners.

We all do it.  It’s just a case of increasing your awareness of them. Can you identify any of these coping mechanisms in your life?

Negative Coping Mechanisms. Blaming. Lockdown. Coronavirus.
  • Filtering – Showing negative bias or blaming certain aspects or persons in a negative event/situation whilst ignoring other factors that may also be relevant.
  • Projecting – The blaming of a situation or event on another person/persons other than yourself.
  • Personalise – Automatically blaming yourself whenever a situation occurs.
  • Catastrophise – Automatically assuming the worst case scenario, completely blowing things out of proportion.
  • Polarising – Visualising a situation as simply black or white, good or evil, win or lose.  Leaving no room for rational possibilities in between.

Positive thinking

So how to turn the tables and convert negative thinking into positive thinking.

 

Identify negative thinking in your life 

 First identify areas of your life that you usually think negatively about.  Why do you think makes you react that way? What to you tend to overreact about? When will your thinking tend to be negative? When you are tired, fatigued, hungry? Write them down and be aware of them. Just spill your thought out onto the pages.

 

Time outs

During the day take the time to check in on yourself and see if negative thinking is creeping in. If you become negative for any reason take an automatic time out and consider what is making you irritable and irrational.  During the Coronavirus situation, there have been many incidences of people lashing out at others (in shopping, with social distancing etc).  Meditate on the ‘real’ underlying reason you are feeling this way so you can do something about it. Look at ways and methods to try to put a positive spin on them.

 

Get rid of the negativity/engage the positive

Surround yourself with things that influence positive thinking. Ignore the mainstream media (they profit off doom and gloom so that is what they will be selling).  Don’t spend too much time on social media (lots of negativity on there at times can bring you down).  Aim at contacting positive friends and family in your life.  The important part here is not to be an anchor, don’t push any negativity you have onto other people.  Aim to help yourself by helping them with their problems. If you can help them in some way then aim to do so.  That’s the way positivity works, don’t go looking for happiness, go looking to make other people happy.  

 

Put Negativity to good use

Negative energy builds up over time.  Put that stress to good use! (See Exercise, Sex, the great outdoors).

 

Constructive criticism and comments only

According to the eightfold path in Buddhism, right thought and right speech are two very important principles.  How true.  Everything you say or think has power and affects the thoughts and deeds of everyone they affect (especially yourself!). So live by these principles.  Got something to say about a person or situation? Fine, be polite and enthusiastic and simply state why you disagree with them.  Never aim to put a negative spin or put down on someone unless you really have to.  Furthermore, give yourself a break, don’t be so harsh on yourself with the criticism. Look at room for improvement and consider ways that you may achieve that.  Anything else is overkill.

 

Laugh at yourself

Don’t take yourself too seriously.  If you have acted like a jerk, be big enough to hold your hands up.  Apologise and then have a good laugh at yourself.  Never let a situation get the better of you.  We are all human (most of us at any rate), we make mistakes, we are emotional beings and often get fatigued or stressed out at things…that shouldn’t really stress us out. Have a laugh and then move on.

In short:

  • A positive attitude has been shown to improve overall health and may also improve immune function.
  • Make optimism work for you. Practice gratitude everyday and Imagine the best outcomes even for difficult situations. You may not always be in control of events around you, but it is 100% up to you how to respond to these events. Respond with a good attitude to increase the chances of the best outcome and to strengthen your immunity.
  • Identify your own negative coping mechanisms and try to work around them or replace them with more positive coping mechanisms.

7. The Great Outdoors

Staying indoors can have a negative impact on the immune health. The immune system works best when challenged regularly by everyday germs and bacteria. That cannot possibly happen when we spend time indoors. In fact, the more time we spend indoors the more likely our immune systems are to be weakened.

Regular visits outside into sunlight and nature will get the immune system into shape to fight infection.

The Great Outdoors. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

Fresh air

During the current situation with COVID-19 some of us would prefer to play it safe, staying inside as often as possible. However, if you think we breathe better air indoors, the bad news is that indoor air pollution can be up to 10x worse than outdoors air.  Indeed, our homes are loaded with their own brand of pollution in the forms of inadequate ventilation, paints, chemicals from household and personal products and mold to name a few!

One study in the EPA New England found that indoor pollutants are around 2 to 5 times (and up to 100) times higher than outdoor pollutants.  And according to the California Air Resources Board “indoor air-pollutants are 25-62% greater than outside levels and this difference poses a serious risk to health.”  

Try to get outside and increase your exposure to fresh air.

NB: If you are concerned with Covid-19 and that is stopping you from going outside, then practice social distancing. Parks are big enough for you to be able to keep your distance from other people walking around in them. 

Vitamin D

This is perhaps the most obvious reason to get outside. The sun supplies us with a far greater supply of Vitamin D in comparison to Vitamin D we receive from food sources. Getting enough of this vitamin is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system.  People who don’t get enough Vitamin D are more likely to suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Our bodies are actually able to produce the Vitamin, by converting sunshine that we soak up via the skin into chemicals that transform into Vitamin D.

The outdoors can boost our immune systems in other ways. Many plants secrete substances (such as organic compounds called phytoncides) into the air which appear to boost immune function. Furthermore, sunlight appears to energise T-cells in the immune system and has been linked with the prevention of diabetes, auto-immune disorders, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease.

Covid-19

NB: On the Covid-19 front, Ultraviolet light has been known to kill germs on skin surfaces (including viruses such as Covid-19).  Indeed many warmer climate countries in Africa have much lower morbidity and mortality rates than the rest of the world with Coronavirus. Although it has not been ascertained exactly why this is.  Still, if UV light proves beneficial in the fight, and is free, there is no reason not to take advantage of this.

Try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of time in the sun each day to reap the health benefits of being outdoors. Do not forget to protect the skin with sun cream.

The Great Outdoors. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Get your daily free dose of Vitamin D.

Sleep

The outdoors also plays a major part in setting your circadian rhythms (our body’s sleep cycle).  Our circadian rhythms are naturally tied to the sun’s schedule.  The cells in our eyes require enough sunlight to ‘set’ the body’s internal clock correctly. Exposing yourself to sunlight first thing in the morning appears to assist with this process.  Spending too much time inside (away from sunlight and with increased exposure to artificial light) can alter our circadian rhythms and disrupt our sleep patterns.

Shift workers (working nightshifts or irregular hours) often find that their circadian rhythms are out of sync because of the irregular sleeping patterns they have to keep.  Their body clocks are all over the place because it has no idea when to sleep and when to wake.

Sleeps role in the immune system (see above) can mean increased cortisol levels, poor mental function and susceptibility to infections and illness.  Try to balance your circadian rhythms, get that early morning sunlight.

Psychological

Stress can tear up a healthy mind and immune system. High periods of stress such as the current predicament are associated with depression, obesity, and high blood pressure. Thankfully there is a natural stress reliever right outside our doors. The Great Outdoors that is.

There is much to be said about the beneficial effects of getting outside and the effects it can have on our psychological well-being.  Spending time outdoors (and in nature if possible) has been linked to reduced blood pressure, lowered heart rate, increased levels of serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter) and increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love.  Spending time outside also improves mood, reduces feelings of anxiety, improves focus, concentration and even self-esteem.  Lastly, spending time outdoors also results in lowered levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  Furthermore getting outdoors is free and accessible to everyone, so no worries about financial costs.

Exercise outside

Why not combine therapies and mix going outdoors with exercise? Hit the parks, get the running and the bodyweight exercises in, easing stress levels while improving mood and fitness levels. It’s a win-win formula.

NB: Don’t exercise with a mask on.  You will be producing increased carbon dioxide and need to be able to expel it via your mouth and nose.  If you are overly concerned about Covid-19 then employs social distancing methods.  Parks are big so that should be easy enough.

Physical benefits

The great outdoors offers beautiful views and fresh air, so choose an exercise regimen that will get you outside.  Even if you are only walking it’s active rest so it’s all good both physically and mentally.  Try and get out for a long walk in a local park or trail near you.  If you live near the countryside then that’s even better, you have no excuses not to stretch your legs. Take your exercise outside of the house and enjoy all the health benefits nature has to offer.

How to Spend More Time Outdoors

Struggling to figure out how you can add the health benefits of being outdoors into your lifestyle and spend more time outside? It’s not as difficult as you think.

  • Exercise outside. Take your yoga sessions to the backyard, run outdoors, or undertake bodyweight exercises in the park.
  • Take a walk. Plot a long walk outside in the biggest outdoor park or area you can find.
  • Eat outside. Social distancing? No problem in the park. Have a picnic in the fresh air.
  • Go for a bike ride – Plot a route along a scenic path, stop for lunch. Enjoy the ride.

In short:

Get outdoors into the fresh air to boost your mood, lower the blood pressure, reduce inflammation, get that vitamin D from the sun and boost the immune system overall.

 

Health benefits

  • Vitamin D is crucial to our health and indeed our survival.
  • Vitamin D intake supports several of our major bodily systems (for example nervous, skeletal ,cardiovascular and of course our immune systems).
  • Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun’s rays causes a person’s skin to produce vitamin D.
  • When vitamin D binds to specific receptors, it sets off a chain of events by which many toxic pathogens (such as cancer cells) are rendered harmless. However, if there is not enough vitamin D the system will not function as efficiently and disease can begin to develop.
  • Although vitamin D can be obtained from limited dietary sources being exposed to sunlight is a much more efficient way to obtain it.  Indeed, only 30 minutes of sun exposure during summer months is equivalent to roughly 10,000 units (UI) of vitamin D.
  • Don’t get fried! Exposing our skin to sunlight (without getting burned!) is the trick, knowing your limits.

 

Stress reduction Benefits

  • Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the brain’s release of the hormone Serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone associated with mood boosting and which allows us to feel relaxed and focused.
  • The effects of being outdoors on a beautiful day are evident.  Research aside, step outside on a sunny day and then describe how it makes you feel.  Most would agree that the warmth of our nearest star is an immediate stress relief and mood booster.
  • We are outdoors creatures, not morlock’s or vampires, to stay indoors is not our natural habitat.  We can only get so much Vitamin D from our food intake, need sunlight. 

8. Relationships and Intimacy

Intimacy. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

Emotional support from partners is an important factor in our immunity levels and indeed our overall health. One study from the University of Pittsburgh demonstrated how women in good marriages had a much lower risk of cardiovascular disease in comparison to those in high stress relationships. Furthermore married people tend to live longer according to a study by the (National Longitudinal Mortality Study).  The study showed that these couples had fewer heart attacks, lower incidences of cancer and even develop far less respiratory conditions (such as pneumonia) compared to people not in relationships.

In a study of the immune system in people with tumours, participants in long and stable relationships were demonstrated to have more vigorous “natural killer” WBC activity at the site of tumours than single people. (These desirable WBC’s kill cancerous cells as part of the body’s immune system).  

More sex anyone?

Sex could be king when it comes to relieving stress as I am sure many of us would agree. The release of endorphins and other mood hormones during sex is off the chart.  One study demonstrated how regular sexual activity enabled people to cope with stressful situations/events much easier than single people or people in relationships not having sex regularly. You got problems? Quickly forgotten after some healthy bedroom gymnastics. Speaking of gymnastics, sex is also a great exercise (of sorts) which is again an effective form of stress relief. 

Sex and immune system. Intimacy. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Whats that? Sex can boost the immune system? Oh well, needs must..

Sex may also promote healthy sleep. After orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released.  Prolactin is responsible for the feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. Good sleep as we know promotes a healthy immune system.  Another study demonstrated how regular sex increased levels of Immunoglobulin A (a protein important in immunity).

Lastly, as with any type of physical activity, healthy sex is good for our hearts. One study published in January 2015 in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men having sex twice or more each week had less risk of cardiovascular diseases (such as stroke or heart attack) than those men who had less sex.

In conclusion, love and safe sex are on the table. Have at thee!

In short:

  • Relationships are good, they promote physical and mental wellbeing (most of the time anyway).
  • Have more sex. Science says so.
  • Don’t wear masks. It will be too weird.
  • Social distancing may prove problematic, unless you are flying solo, in which you have a green light.

9. Maintaining Social Ties

Maintaining social ties. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

There is a plethora of evidence available highlighting how loneliness and social isolation affect immune function and increasing susceptibility to infection. Loneliness has also been linked with disrupted sleep patterns. As mentioned above insomnia not only affects immune function, but also other factors such as glucose regulation, cardiovascular risk, depression and daytime function.  A negative effect on any of those factors may indeed impact on the immune systems function.

Poor mental health and depression in particular have also been linked to infection.  This is thought to be due to how depression inhibits the effectiveness of your immune system’s T-cells. 

Studies have shown that people more connected to friends generally have stronger immunity than those who are isolated.  We are social animals and communication with friends and loved ones is essential to our growth and potential. We can bounce ideas off one another, relay our own fears and anxieties, express our emotions without judgement and have lots of fun along the way.  If that social connection are hindered or broken then it impacts poorly upon our physical and mental wellbeing.  One further study linked social isolation as having as large an effect on mortality risk as smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and high blood pressure.

Maintaining social ties. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Keep in touch with friends and family.

Strengthen Social Ties

There are lots of ways to develop and strengthen social ties even during times such as this. Keep in contact with old friends and call them regularly. Make new friends to strengthen and expand your social circle.  With the rise of social media, and online video calling (such as FaceTime and Skype) keeping in touch with friends and loved ones is possible even with lockdown measures in place.  Make future plans to meet up and undertake some activity or organise a holiday.  Now is a time for self reflection and improving your life so don’t waste the opportunity, reach out and find other people. Join an online class (there are lots of free courses available U-demy for example), learn a language on a language exchange group or join a group related to an interest or hobby (use apps such as Meetup). Now’s the time.

In short:

  • As with any of life’s challenges, the more people on your side, the better your chances. The same rules apply with regards to health, creating a strong social network is paramount in raising the level of your immune system.

10. Pets

Pets. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

If you are more of a pet person, that’s awesome.  Research has concluded that there are positive health benefits such as lowered blood pressure from having pets for companions. They can provide excellent social support (arguably more than with people), stress relief, and other health benefits. Pets have also been shown to reduce the amount of stress people experience from feelings of social isolation and lack of social support from people.  Many people find that pets can be there for them in ways that people can’t. They can offer unconditional love and companionship (as long as you feed them :D) and may very well be the best antidote to loneliness.

Furthermore, dog owners generally spend more time walking than non-pet owners. Exercise is of course good for stress management and overall health, so owning a dog can certainly contribute to increasing these benefits.

In short:

  • Pets are good.

11. The healing power of Laughter

Comedy. Laughter. Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

Can laughter really boost your immune system?  Results of some studies suggest it can. Indeed, laughter is often used as therapy as it has been shown to help lower stress, prevent heart disease, and improve social bonds. Is laughter really the best medicine?

One randomised study conducted at a nursing centre in Indiana test using comparison groups to determine the effect of laughter on self-reported stress and natural killer cell activity.  The study revealed that as well as reducing stress, that there were links between laughter and improved NK (Natural Killer) cell activity. The conclusion of the study was that since low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioural intervention.

Comedy Movie Therapy

In another study, researchers measured blood vessel functioning in 20 non-smoking, healthy participants. Nearly all of the volunteers (95%) experienced increased blood flow rates while watching a comedy movie.  In comparison, 74% of people in the study who watched news or film showing war images, demonstrated decreased blood flow. The overall results of the study showed that the average blood flow of participants increased 22% when laughing and decreased 35% whilst under mental stress from horrific war images. The changes in blood flow was compared to the benefit seen during aerobic activity. Could watching comedy whilst exercising in your living room improve this further? Personally I need the music to workout, but it’s food for thought. (Trying to hold a plank whilst gut laughing? That would take great willpower and core strength!)

So is laughter really the best medicine? Comedy has been shown to help people develop a positive outlook and to reduce stress, it has also been shown to increase blood flow and improve NK cell activity. So I would argue that it is a very effective immune system booster that may indeed reduce the likelihood of illness. More reason to watch more comedy!

Comedy. Laughter. Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Dig out those old comedy classics to beat the blues.

Comedy Central

So if you are stuck indoors, maybe now is the time to catch up with that favourite laugh a minute boxset or Netflix show, watch your favourite comedy film or stand-up comedian.  With regards to stand ups the sky is the limit, search around online and you are guaranteed to find a comic with your particular brand of humour.  Don’t stop there, shop around, look at different comics and sets, check out some of the more obscure ones available.  You may find some of your favourite comedians this way, comics that would have gone undiscovered by you had you not gone browsing to see who is out there.  There is much fun to be had in live sets, from the improvisation, to comics verbally slapping down hecklers, to audience reactions. Open yourself up to as much as possible, get that daily comedic fix and ramp up that immune system health as you gut laugh.

In short:

  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.

12. Listening to Music

Listening to music. Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.

Music’s ability to alter mood and emotional states has long been known. Indeed there is considerable scientific rationale to support the use of music to enhance mental and physical wellbeing (including immune function) via its powerful influence on our emotions.

According to a review in the Brain Behaviour and Immunity journal, the emotional and psychological effects of listening to music have a direct impact on the release of ‘happy’ hormones and neurotransmitters (serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and endorphin).  Another study from McGill University demonstrated large amounts of dopamine were released after participants listened to popular music.

Several studies have shown that negative emotions (such as anger) increased cortisol levels and thus suppressed the immune system.  Whereas the opposite occurred with positive emotional states (happiness) were shown to reduce the cortisol level and therefore boost immunity

Benefits of different musical genres

Listening to certain genres of music may also be beneficial in dealing with stress and boosting the immune system.  Relaxing music can help in recovery from colds and other seasonal illnesses more rapidly. One study at Wilkes University study demonstrated that soothing music increased levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in the immune system (IgA is an antibody that plays an important role in defending against pathogens). Upbeat dance music and smooth jazz also showed a similar positive effect on IgA levels. 

Workout to music. Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Using music to help you blast out the reps!

Recent research has revealed how fast-tempo music may motivate us to work out more intensely.  Moving to the rhythm is enjoyable and can spur us to move faster thus increasing the heart rate and making the exercises appear to be less of an effort. This can be great for gruelling and repetitive workouts such as running, jumping rope or circuit training. It is also a great excuse to listen to music that makes you angry (aggressive rap, heavy metal or fast paced dance music) to ramp up the cortisol and put all that negative stress to good use!

More Relaxing Genres

While faster music boosts workout performance, soothing music can calm us down and help us sleep better at night. Listening to relaxing genres such as classical music can assist in reducing anxiety as well as blood pressure and heart rate.  This can also reduce muscle tension and distract us from our thoughts. If you suffer from insomnia or are struggling to sleep because of stress try some soothing music to relax the mind.

Finally, singing may also enhance immune benefits.  One study of a German choir revealed that singing activated the spleen thus increasing the blood concentrations of antibodies and boosting the immune system. All the more reason to undertake Karaoke or sing in the shower!

In short:

  • Music has been shown to have a positive influence on our overall wellbeing and the immune system.
  • Exercise and good quality sleeps contributions to a healthy functioning immune system can be improved using the power of music.
  • The type of genre you are listening to can affect your mental state. Use fast music for workouts, chilled out music to relax, soft music to help improve your sleep.

13. Avoiding Cigarettes and Alcohol

Alcohol

Sadly in many cultures during difficult times it is almost second nature to reach for a drink to help deal high stress levels. Sadly the coronavirus situation and the resultant lockdowns have seen binge drinking rise significantly with people sat at home with nothing to do.  These long periods of no work and worrying about issues such as the virus, infection, financial worries and the overall outcome has led many to casual drinking as a coping mechanism

Alcohol abuse. Poor Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Drinking is a poor coping mechanism for stress.

Drinking high amounts of alcohol is associated with a range of negative health effects including decreased immune function. Heavy alcohol consumption leaves the body in a weakened state and vulnerable to infection. Consequently, big drinkers face a higher likelihood of conditions such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, cirrhosis of the liver as well as certain cancers.

High alcohol intake also leaves the body primarily occupied with detoxification and the immune system in a state of neglect.  Alcohol can badly affect the healthy microbes in your gut and disrupts their communication with the gut’s immune system. Additionally, it also damages the natural gut barrier and allows leakage of bacteria into the circulation, potentially making us unwell.

In short:

  • Drinking should not be a coping mechanism, it doesn’t make problems go away. Just makes them seem even bigger the next day.
  • Alcohol consumption takes a toll in terms of health impact and financially. Do you need that at this time?
  • Keep hydrated by sipping water on the side while you are drinking.
  • If you drink occasionally, keep an eye on your intake. Limit your alcohol consumption to two drinks a day (man) or one drink (woman).

Cigarettes

It is now well established that cigarette smoking can negatively affect immune health.  For years the world has known about the detrimental effects of smoking due to the chemical content of cigarettes (carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides, and cadmium) all of which can interfere with growth and function of immune cells (such as cytokines, T-cells, and B-cells). It can also reduce the function of cilia (delicate hairs that move mucus around the respiratory system).

Smokers are also at increased risk of health problems like lung cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart attack. The habit is known to worsen viral and bacterial infections, such as respiratory infections of the lungs (pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis to name a few), post-surgical infections, and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints).

Smoking. Poor Stress management. Immune system function. How to boost immune system. Coronavirus.
Smoking. Never an attractive habit.

In short:

  • Substances that decrease the function of the immune system is something that should be avoided anytime, let alone the current situation.
  • If you are considering quitting or cutting back then perhaps now truly is the time. 
  • There are a wide range of strategies to assist with quitting smoking (nicotine patches, counselling, prescription non-nicotine medications, and behavioural therapy).

Summary

We all possess an immune system but not everyone’s immune system is as healthy and functions at 100% efficiency. However, there are things we can do in our lifestyles to strengthen our immune systems and improve our chances of warding off illness. Learn to balance the books, do your utmost to improve your immune system and improve your chances of overcoming illness whenever it surfaces. Aim to live a healthier lifestyle with a balanced diet and hydration, regular physical activity, good hygiene, lowered stress levels and adequate sleep.

Bulletproofing Immune System. Immune system facts.

It should be noted that no supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification is going to make you 100% immune from diseases such as COVID-19.  However the suggested mental and physical strategies can only bolster your immune system to help prevent infection and/or help your immune system to fight the disease should you be infected. 

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