How to make sure your immune system is up to the task in the fight against COVID-19 and other viruses

This time of year always brings out “new year, new me” resolutions, often consisting of improved diets and fitness regimes, and experts say keeping our immune systems in good shape is even more important. amid the COVID threat.

Brisbane woman Donna Dyson said since the pandemic her lifestyle has “changed dramatically”.

“My lifestyle has changed in the way I eat, the way I exercise, and also taking into account hand washing and the routines that we all need to follow,” she said.

Donna Dyson cooks a healthy meal at her home in Brisbane.(ABC News: Mélanie Vujkovic)

Ms. Dyson is legally blind and has had several strokes. She said she didn’t think of herself as “athletic,” so an exercise regime was a whole new experience for her.

“It was the most wonderful life choice I have made,” she said.

“I go to the gym every two or three days and I have a great team there working with me and I’m definitely a lot more balanced now and I’m getting a lot stronger.

A woman applies a wrist strap to the arm of another woman at the gym.
Brisbane woman Donna Dyson has a wrist strap applied by her personal trainer.

“I think it’s really important to make a change, and the New Year is coming soon, and there are always New Year’s resolutions, but sometimes we don’t follow them.

“We will be exposed to the virus and I think it’s really important that we make sure that we do whatever we can do while we’re fine; I’m not saying we’re all going to get sick, but I just think everything everyone should wake up in the morning and be the best person they can be. “

The first step towards a stronger immune system

Senior Professor at the University of Queensland’s Primary Care Clinical Unit, Dr David King, said that even 30 minutes of exercise a day would do the immune system a lot of good.

He said a strong immune system wouldn’t stop a person from contracting COVID, but decades of research have proven that people with healthier immune systems are much less prone to colds and flu, and that they recovered more quickly.

“There aren’t really any magic cures, people are looking for a holy grail, but the immune system is very complex, it’s like an army – it has many functions,” he said.

“There are lots of general health measures we can help him with – these are things we already know – but it doesn’t hurt to remember good diet, exercise, sleep and be happy.”

A woman balances the bar.
Brisbane woman Donna Dyson hangs onto a barbell as she balances on one foot at the gym.(ABC News: Mélanie Vujkovic)

Brisbane scientist Luke Glacken said it was also easy for people to go too far and strain their bodies.

“Actually, we see a lot of things, where people decide they’re going to go for it and they don’t really know what they’re doing to begin with, and they try to fuck each other for the sake of it and that’s the fastest way to burn right from the start, ”he said.

“Make sure you consult a professional, make sure you have something that is specifically right for you, and that way the exercise you do is beneficial.

“I think getting moving, getting off the couch and getting the most out of everyday life is the best place to start.”

Did you eat two fruits and five vegetables today?

Brisbane dietician Hannah Wilson said many people have sold their immune systems short.

“A lot of us don’t nourish our bodies the best we can, as regularly as possible,” she said.

“What we want to see is increase your veggies, increase your whole grains over time, and eat the right portions.”

A woman smiling at the camera.
Hannah Wilson Certified Dietitian from All Bodies Services in Brisbane.(ABC News: Mélanie Vujkovic)

She said it was important not to skip any food groups, including carbohydrates.

“For probably two reasons when it comes to immune function: not getting enough energy in our body, which is also associated with immune function, so we actually have to meet our energy needs”, a- she declared.

“If we’re actually living in a deficit all the time trying to cut down on carbohydrates, it’s actually going to be worse for our immune function.

“The second reason is that carbohydrates go hand in hand with fiber. So if we eat high quality carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables, it will actually give us a wide variety of different fibers. .

“So if we take out the carbohydrates, we don’t have the ability to incorporate those fibers.”

What about “immune boosting” supplements?

Ms Wilson said immune-boosting supplements did nothing in people who were already healthy, and Dr King agreed.

“[For gut health] it’s about the diversity of plants and the amount of fiber.

“When it comes to the amount of fiber, we want to hit around 30 grams of fiber per day.

A woman is smiling while typing on her computer while another woman is smiling in the background.
Brisbane dietitian Hannah Wilson with her client George in her clinic.(ABC News: Mélanie Vujkovic)

“[But] we don’t want to eat the same fruits, same vegetables, same whole grains every day, we actually want to eat 30 different plant foods per week, so that’s a lot, that’s why i don’t think people maximize their gut health or immune function.

“It’s easy for the shopping list, it’s easy for meal planning, but it’s as simple as, instead of buying a lettuce, buy the four salad mix. Rather than buying a can of chickpeas, buy the four bean mix or a nut versus cashew mix, so few exchanges like that can really help. “

Dr King said research on the Mediterranean diet has proven to be beneficial.

“Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and salads and tomatoes and all of those antioxidants,” he said.

A bowl of vegetables and fresh salads.
An example of the Mediterranean diet according to experts is beneficial.(Unsplash)

“And this is linked to a decrease in heart problems and cancer and actually improves mood.”

Ms Wilson said it was difficult to say if there was any benefit to taking probiotics.

“If you take care of your body, you are probably not going to benefit from probiotics,” she said.

“If you’ve been eating a fairly processed diet, there isn’t a lot of fiber, not a lot of plant foods, you could probably benefit from it, and it can actually help your immune function.”

What about sleep?

Dr King said the “ideal” recommended amount of sleep is seven to eight hours per night.

“Research shows we are getting about an hour less sleep than a generation ago in British Columbia before computers,” he said.

“The need for sleep varies from person to person. Some people may need more, others get by with less.

“Very often our state of health is reflected in how we feel and if we outdo ourselves we know we are not getting enough sleep.”

Give our immune system a break

Dr King said it was important not to challenge our immune system by eating too much unhealthy food, including excessive amounts of meat, and taking our calorie intake into account.

“When you put things in the body that it doesn’t like, it triggers an immune response and causes inflammation,” he said.

“Likewise, when there are too many refined things in our food, we probably react to some of them and there is good evidence that too much meat every day, hundreds of grams, for meals. , increases the risk of diabetes and bowel cancer.

“We know obesity has a huge impact on the outcome when you contract COVID, so losing weight will make a big difference in helping us survive COVID.

“It’s not ‘boosting’ our immune system, it gives it a break so it’s ready to go when it’s needed.”

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