The emerging coronavirus pandemic has swept from China across the world, resulting in a blaze of headlines warning of an increasing number of cases, shutdowns and the oft-repeated mantra to wash your hands.
Soap and water can be hugely helpful in stopping transmission of the infection. The virus has a lipid (or fatty) layer on the outside, so simple hand washing breaks it down and stops it spreading.
We’ve also learned that a person’s underlying level of health is relevant to how well the body copes with infection (as with any virus). Lifestyle changes can do nothing to stop you from becoming unwell – that mostly comes down to hand hygiene or social distancing techniques – but they can help to strengthen your body and mind as the pandemic rolls on.
The strength of the immune system varies not only from person to person but also from day to day – its ability to fight off infection fluctuates depending on many factors.
Here are five things you can do to keep your immune system in check during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The headlines we’re bombarded with every day about the virus could easily have an impact on the nation’s mental health. Already we’ve seen waves of panic in the supermarkets as people stockpile everyday goods. In this time of stress, it’s useful to remember the impact stress hormones have on weakening the immune system.
In short supply, the stress hormone cortisol can boost immunity by limiting inflammation. But, once it crosses a certain threshold, too much cortisol in the blood opens the door for more inflammation.
Stress can also negatively impact the production of lymphocytes — the white blood cells that are the body’s first line of defence against infection — putting you at potential risk of viral disease. Consider limiting your daily screen time and take breaks when you feel burned out. Relaxation techniques like meditation and gentle exercise might also help.
The importance of exercise
Regular exercise promotes cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and offers protection against diseases.
Exercise also improves blood circulation, allowing immune system cells to move through the body more freely and do their job more effectively.
Eat a balanced diet
The immune system is the body’s natural defence system, and (like any army) its soldiers need sustenance. Make sure you eat a balanced diet with fruits and vegetables in order to receive the right proportion of micronutrients.
Nutrition, and the advice of nutritionists, is useful in understanding the best way to respond to patterns of illness. If you want to learn how to help others by becoming a nutritionist, you can explore our selection of online courses for that profession.
In addition to learning how to eat a balanced, healthy diet you can learn how to adopt a diet specifically designed to prevent disease.
Monash University’s Food as Medicine course, designed especially for healthcare professionals, gives an introduction to current evidence surrounding the impact of nutrition on the development and treatment of chronic low-grade inflammation, and potential subsequent disease development.
Smoking tobacco has several negative effects on immune system health, such as:
- Greater susceptibility to infections such as pneumonia and influenza.
- More severe and longer-lasting illnesses.
- Lower levels of protective antioxidants (such as vitamin C), in the blood.
Try to sleep
Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep or good quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.
When we sleep, the body releases proteins called cytokines, while sleep deprivation decreases their production. Cytokines are paramount during times of infection or inflammation.
If you want to know more about the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve partnered with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to create a free course exploring the pandemic – from its origins to how we should react to it in the present.