The immune system is one of our most important defenses against the things that can make us sick. The latest research shows that on average, 5 days of work are lost per person per year due to illness. Every year, the flu costs the United States 10.4 billion dollars in hospitalizations and outpatient visits. And of course, Covid-19 infection has cost so much more. The good news is that most of us have the capacity to STRENGTHEN our own immune systems by certain actions we take and thus decrease the likelihood of getting sick.
4 things we can do right now to strengthen our immune systems
#1: Move your body every day!
Do you spend more time in one spot or more time in movement? Do you look for the closest parking spot or park farther away to get more steps? In physical therapy, exercise is what we preach to our patients every day as science has proven time and time again that “movement is good medicine.”
The cells of your body help to keep you alive. They need nutrients and they produce waste products that must be exported. Movement facilitates this process. As you move your body and avoid sitting for long periods of time, your muscles help pump your blood just like an extra heart. As your muscles squeeze, the lymph fluid which sits and builds up in your tissues also gets pumped out of your body. When this process works better, your body has more energy to work on its own defense systems. Also, when you exercise regularly your body goes into “autophagy.” This means your body kills off the sick and diseased cells that you are carrying around which drag you down and make you sick. Autophagy is your body’s natural way of keeping the good cells strong and getting rid of the excess baggage of sick and dying cells.
Doing a regular exercise program every day is key in helping you get the movement you need to help you maintain a strong immune system. If you don’t know where to start, or if you have pain and wonder about what exercise approach is best for you, come see us at Therapeutic Associates. We have the knowledge to help you take that step safely.
#2: Get enough sleep!
When is the last time you woke up without an alarm and it was in time for you to go to work? When you wake up do you feel rested? Do you have a regular bedtime and make sure you follow the same sleep and wake patterns daily? According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans don’t get enough sleep. During sleep, your body releases proteins and antibodies which help fight off infections. When your sleep is compromised, this cell production is also compromised, and it is easier for infections to take hold. Additionally, long-term lack of sleep will increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which in turn will increase your susceptibility to opportunistic diseases such as pneumonia and Covid-19.
Do you want to know one more thing that you can do to help you sleep better each night? Exercise is the answer! Studies show that those who exercise regularly fall asleep faster and do a better job going into deep sleep and REM sleep, which in turn helps your body heal and stay more resilient.
#3: Eat a healthy diet!
Are you a “convenience eater” or an “emotional eater”? Do you eat more often from a fast-food establishment or from a box? Do you include natural foods in their natural states in your 3 meals a day? Science has shown that foods with added sugars significantly increase the sugar in the blood and thus increases insulin. This results in the production of inflammatory proteins in the body. Food that is high in salt may also inhibit normal immune function, suppress the “inti-inflammatory response,” and alter gut bacteria. Also, fried foods have been shown to weaken the immune system by promoting inflammation, inducing cellular dysfunction and negatively affecting gut bacteria. As our gut bacteria becomes compromised the resulting inflammation ultimately creates gaps in our intestinal walls which scientists call “leaky gut.” When our gut is “leaky” this allows those nasty bugs a way in to create illness and disease which ultimately compromise our immune systems.
In order to strengthen your immune system, make sure to include plenty of vegetables, including leafy greens and berries in your diet. Eat natural foods from the earth instead of processed foods from factories and assembly lines. When you eat better, you will undoubtedly feel better. When you feel better, you make better choices which ultimately supports your immune system.
#4: Manage your mind!
Do you find yourself feeling anxious and stressed out each day? Do you have healthy “coping mechanisms” to deal with the stress of life or are they unhealthy? Mind management is where the 3 strategies above all come together! When we manage our minds appropriately, we sleep better, we make healthier food choices, and we select more healthy coping mechanisms including exercise to deal with stress. AND, as we do the 3 strategies above, we better manage our minds. It’s a two-way street! When we experience stress and we are unable to cope appropriately, our body shifts into “fight or flight” nervous system response (the sympathetic nervous system). In chronic “fight/flight” our body releases excessive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline which over time weakens immune system and increases the speed of aging. The best strategy for shifting out of the sympathetic nervous system and into the parasympathetic (rest and repair) is proper breathing. We must SLOW our breathing to shift our nervous system state. Try this simple strategy at home while sitting comfortably: Breathe in for a 4 count, hold for 2 counts, and then exhale for 6 counts. Practice this for a couple of minutes and you will be surprised how your body moves into a better state of “calm.”
Physical therapists are trained to recognize breathing strategies and how they relate to pain and function. Did you know that they way you breathe may keep you in a more painful state each day, can result in feeling increased anxiety and can slow your body’s healing processes? If you want to learn how to shift your breathing to be more “health promoting” come and see one of our highly trained PTs.
Illness gets in the way of so many things we would rather do! The good news is we have the power to ultimately minimize our “sick time” and maximize our “healthy time” by our daily habits and routines. As we strengthen our immune systems in the ways I have mentioned we will enjoy the capacity to better engage in life without being derailed by sickness and disease. For more information, come and see one of our highly trained physical therapists to help you on your path toward greater quality of life and vitality through stronger immunity.
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