Although many health experts recommend that we continue to practice social distancing to prevent getting (or spreading) the coronavirus, most of us find ourselves struggling with the long-term effects of self-isolation, which can be damaging to immune system functions.
Some of us are still adjusting to our new normal, which may include working from home or losing a job altogether, homeschooling multiple children, and limited outside resources or contact with others.
It’s essential to address both your physical and mental needs during this time to keep your immune system properly functioning. You may also need to get creative to overcome obstacles.
Here’s our best tips for keeping your immune system strong during quarantine.
1. Stay connected to loved ones.
Self-isolation can be depressing, especially if you had an engaging social life or support system before the stay-at-home order hit.
According to the CDC, loneliness and self-isolation may lead to serious health complications, including depression, anxiety, and even suicide. As a total body disorder, depression is especially damaging to immune health.
One study found that people with subclinical depression who were given a single flu shot overproduced interleukin-6, which is a long-term inflammatory marker released by the immune system.
Staying connected to your loved ones through this difficult time can help. Talking on the phone and using virtual calls may reduce the feelings of self isolation and depression, which can help promote a healthy immune response.
2. Stay goal-oriented.
It can be easy to fall into unhealthy habits while no one is looking. Staying up late, eating unhealthy food, snacking more than you should, and watching too much TV can lead to chronic inflammation and take a toll on your immune response.
If you’re suddenly working home office, try to keep the same schedule that you had before the pandemic hit. Kids also do well in a structured environment, even if it’s at home.
Staying goal oriented can help with productivity, too. Write your goals and intentions down if you have to, and then stick to a schedule that allows you to get things done even while in quarantine.
3. Focus on whole foods.
Eating a whole foods diet with an emphasis on lots of plant foods can help reduce inflammation and boost immunity. This is especially important during stressful times, such as during a pandemic.
Focus on nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, and cut out all food-like substances, including processed foods and fast food. These nutrients help boost the health of your gut microbiota, which directly influences the immune system.
Try eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods to ensure that you’re getting adequate sources of as many nutrients as possible. You might have heard that it’s beneficial to “eat the rainbow.”
Foods (and drinks) that are high in antioxidants and immune-boosting vitamins include bell peppers, green vegetables, herbs, nuts, teas, berries, citrus fruits, and cruciferous vegetables.
4. Consider taking supplements.
Your body may need extra help staying healthy during a pandemic. Taking immune-boosting supplements, such as a multivitamin, is a good way to stay as protected as possible by preventing nutritional deficiencies.
It may also help to take an immune-enhancing supplement that contains a good amount of antioxidants, herbs, amino acids, and probiotics.
According to one study, your immune system is an indicator of health. It also acts as a longevity predictor, and protecting this system through dietary antioxidant supplementation may help promote healthy aging.
Probiotics help boost immunity by keeping your gut bacteria healthy. Once ingested, oral probiotics interact with the intestinal epithelial cells, or immune cells, through receptors that induce the production of different immune chemicals.
They can also help protect you against viral infections. Research shows that supplementing with probiotics improves the symptoms of upper respiratory infections in mice.
Other supplements that have been shown to help boost immunity and fight against COVID-19 include vitamins C and D, zinc, and N-acetylcysteine.
5. Keep moving.
You might have to get creative to sustain a continuous exercise routine during quarantine, but it’s worth the hassle.
Exercise is an excellent immune-booster, and it doesn’t matter how or where you do it. Exercise will keep your body healthy and lift your mood to help combat the quarantine blues.
Research shows that acute exercise boosts your body’s defense activity and metabolic health. There is a clear relationship between exercise and risk of illness.
This is because exercise ultimately has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It also supports increased carbohydrate and polyphenol intake to support a healthy immune system.
Additionally, regular exercise helps delay the onset of age-related disorders, which is promising for older adults who might be more at risk of serious health complications due to COVID-19.
Even gentle exercise, such as going for a daily walk outdoors, can help reduce stress and boost immune function. Many gyms are closed during quarantine, which is a good excuse to get outdoors. It also costs nothing to exercise outdoors.
6. Rest and recover.
Quarantine is a good time to rest both your mind and body. On a physiological level, sleep is very good for your immune health.
It has been shown to help facilitate the distribution of T cells to lymph nodes. Sleep also helps enhance the interaction of antigen presenting cells and T helper cells.
According to one study, many people report getting sick when they are not sleeping well. This is because shorter sleep durations depress the immune system. Impaired sleep can even impact your body’s response to vaccines by producing fewer antibodies.
Sleep also helps reset your mind and promote mental health. When you sleep, your body “cleans out” your brain to help restore memory and protect against neurological disorders.
Additionally, research shows that the stress many of us feel due to the pandemic may negatively affect immune health.
Since you’re probably spending more time at home anyways, it’s a good idea to use this time to decompress and focus on rest by adopting healthy sleep habits and finding healthy outlets for stress to help clear your mind.