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COVID-19: Caring for Your Immune System

Posted by Katy Lyden on May 21, 2020 at 12:04 PM

As we begin to reopen parts of the country and rejoin society, we have to be mindful of how fragile our immune systems might be after spending the past few months in a sort of sanitized isolation.

Understanding how the immune system works and how to properly care for it will help make sure you stay as healthy as possible when rejoining society.

Immune System Basics

The immune system is made up of two parts, the non-specific, innate immune system and the specific, acquired immune system.  Both systems function together to help protect the body from disease causing pathogens. 

The innate immune system is what we are born with which constantly scours the body looking for invaders (pathogens) and springs into action when one is discovered, surrounding the unwanted pathogens and killing it.

The acquired immune system is a bit more complicated.  Unlike the innate immune system, the acquired immune system develops and changes throughout a person’s life.  It also needs a little help from the innate immune system as well as the outside world to help produce antibodies used to protect the body from specific pathogens.  To build up an immunity to certain illnesses and diseases, the body must be introduced to the microbes (or germs) which cause those illnesses and diseases.

This exposure typically comes from coming down with an illness and recovering from it (whether we realize this is going on or not) and/or receiving a vaccination for a specific disease or illness. 

Germs – They’re Not All Bad

When it comes to germs, we really want the best of both worlds, don’t we?  We want our bodies to have all the good germs needed to help us fight off the bad ones but at the same time, we also want to live in environments where there aren’t a lot of harmful germs to fight off.

To try and accomplish this we do things like take antibiotics when we’re sick and we use products like sanitizers and anti-microbial cleaners to clean our homes and bodies.  When used in moderation, each of these things work very well.  However, we sometimes go a little overboard and overuse these things and by doing so, we can sometimes upset the delicate balance we’re trying to preserve. 

For the past several months we’ve been told to wash our hands much more frequently than we’re accustomed to and to use liberal amounts of hand sanitizer and other cleaners designed to kill germs within our homes.  We’ve also been instructed to stay home for the purpose of limiting our exposure to COVID-19—all of which has been beneficial for reducing the number of people infected but it begs the question about whether all of this has made our immune systems a bit lazy. 

Keeping a Healthy Immune System

So, how do we keep our immune systems strong and healthy so that when it’s time to rejoin society we don’t find ourselves overly susceptible to illnesses brought about by germs our bodies would normally easily fight off? 

Here’s a list of several things that medical experts say you can do to help keep your immune system as healthy as possible.

  1. Reduce Stress. We know that right now it’s really hard to reduce stress, especially if you’ve found yourself out of work or have experienced a loved one who has become ill during the pandemic but even a taking just a few minutes every day to do something you enjoy that allows you to escape a bit will help reduce stress. 

  2. When we exercise we feel better which reduces stress.  Strive for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.  If you don’t have access to a gym, try just taking a walk around the block or trying out some yoga moves in your living room.  There are lots of free videos online that will help you find exercises that fit your lifestyle.

  3. It’s true what they say, when you eat better, you feel better.  What you feed your body matters to your overall health.  While most people love a sweet treat or to have an alcoholic beverage from time to time, keeping these things in moderation will be healthier in the long run.

  4. If you’re not eating as well as you could, consider adding a supplement to your diet to help fill in any dietary gaps.  One especially important vitamin is Vitamin D which is produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight—so if you’ve been locked up in the house for a while, you might be low on Vitamin D. 

  5. Right now the stress of the current pandemic might be making it difficult to sleep or get a restful sleep however, sleep is really important to your overall health!  Even taking a nap during the day can be helpful if you’re having trouble sleeping at night.  In addition, things like lavender scented items, melatonin and chamomile tea are things that might help.  If all else fails, talk to your doctor. 

  6. Medical professionals say to drink around 10-12 glasses of water a day.  Staying hydrated allows your body to flush out toxins more easily.  If you don’t like the taste of water, add lemon slices to it or buy a water enhancement flavoring—bonus if the flavoring comes with vitamins!

Now, what most medical experts won’t tell you is that sometimes what you really need is a hot bath, a piece of cake, a good laugh (or a good cry!) and to remember to just give yourself a break!

Make sure to check out our blog for more resources on the evolving pandemic situation, like this post on workplace safety legislation offering new coronavirus protections.

Topics: Coronavirus

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