Pandemic Prep: Ten Things You Can Begin Doing Today...
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
...and panic is not on the list. You've no doubt been pummeled recently with everything from scary dire warnings to somewhat funny tongue-in-cheek memes regarding our current global health crisis - I know I have. Somewhere in the middle there is a balance where we can think logically and reasonably about preparations and precautions. One way we can actually do something other than wring our hands, imagining the worst, and buying up all the toilet paper (!) is to keep our immune systems as healthy and strong as possible. Healthy immune systems are less likely to succumb to the complications of illness, and there are many ways we can support ourselves to have an edge in avoiding it altogether. We can't do much about circumstances that are out of our control, but what we can do is steer those things that we have at our disposal, the choices that we make each and every day, toward the best possibility of remaining well.
1. Be diligent about getting plenty of optimal sleep. Research shows that people who have actual cold viruses applied to their nasal passages don't come down nearly as often with illness when they've had 7 hours of sleep. The subjects in this study who had less than 5 hours sleep fared the worst, but even getting between 6 and 7 hours showed a higher likelihood of succumbing to the cold. Your body does a lot of cleaning house and repair during the night while you sleep. Just one poor night's sleep can have a negative effect on your immune system the following day (and, as an aside, a negative effect on your hunger/fullness hormones as well!), so prioritizing sleep is a must in order to keep your terrain from losing the battle against invaders. So you're a night owl, you say? Begin by going to bed 15 min earlier each night until you've gotten yourself into bed by 10:00 pm. Implement a bedtime routine that will help your body get the message that you are headed that way - a warm bath a couple hours before bed, wearing blue light-blocking glasses or, better yet, just turning off electronics altogether an hour before bed, and doing some reading or some other relaxing activity. Stop eating a minimum of 2 hours before bed to ensure your body isn't so busy digesting that it can't clean house as it is designed to.
2. Eat a varied diet full of nutrient-rich foods. Ask yourself if what you are about to eat will (1) nourish you or (2) deplete you. Every single thing we put in our mouths will do one or the other. Highly processed foods not only lack the nutrients we need, but they contain nutrient depleters such as artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. This is a double whammy to your precious bod. Fill up on foods that have a high nutrient per calorie ratio so that you get the most bang for your buck.
3. Decrease your intake of sugars and highly refined carbohydrates, such as baked goods, sodas, and junky snacks. Sugar is inflammatory and it depresses the immune system; a weakened immune response can mean the difference between a sniffle and a full-blown respiratory infection.
4. Stay hydrated. Eat plenty of hydrating fresh vegetables and fruit. These are rich in potassium and water which are both important for hydration. Drink half your body weight in ounces daily, and watch your intake of caffiene-containing drinks which can be dehydrating to the body.
5. Keep moving. Did you know that movement affects us down to the cellular level? Healthy cells are cells impacted by movement, and sitting is one of the worst things we can do all day long. Cells become stiff just like our joints and muscles do, and we all know how that hinders productivity. Need to sit for your work? Take a short break every 20 minutes or so to stand up, walk around, stretch. Find something that appeals to you to get a more substantial bit of exercise in each day - walk, take a fitness class or workout to a video, jump on a rebounder, do some resistance or body weight exercises, or anything that gets you active. No gym membership required!
6. Spend some time in the sun and in nature in general. Exposure to sunlight, especially early in the day, is good for our circadian rhythms and vitamin D production. Both of these benefit our immune systems in immeasurable ways. I'm talking about taking a walk, doing some gardening, getting outdoors and into the fresh air - not baking in the sun for long periods of time a la beach towel and suntan lotion.
7. Find ways to deal with the stress in your life! This one is a biggie. Stress is very detrimental to our immune systems and to all of our systems in general. Living a completely stress-free life isn't an option, but working on our perception of stress and dealing with it properly is the key. Learning to move from a ramped up nervous system state to a relaxed nervous system state is one of the most important skills one can master. It takes practice, and it takes a conscious effort, but it is time and effort well spent. The body cannot heal while in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state. Healing takes place only when the body is in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. So do whatever it takes - self-care, deep breathing, meditation, prayer, slowing down to eat and chew well, spending time in nature, declaring some screen-free time, etc. - to unwind and unravel those pent up frustrations and emotions. Try turning off the news for a few days if these up-to-the-minute reports of where the virus is now is causing you stress. Stay informed, but don't give in to mass hysteria.
8. Make sure your digestion is on point. If you are experiencing heartburn, bloat, belching, excessive fullness, nausea, gas, diarrhea, or constipation - these are symptoms that your digestion needs some attention. Even skin rashes and nasal allergies, among other seemingly unrelated things, can indicate an issue with digestion. You can eat the healthiest diet you can muster and still miss out on all those great nutrients if your digestion and absorption isn't up to par. Did you know that up to 80% of your immune system is associated with your gut? They go hand in hand. Did you know that the majority of the neurotransmitters necessary for a healthy brain and mood are made in your gut? Gut health is paramount to whole body health. This is something I work with clients on continually - it's that important.
9. Love your liver. Yes, you read that right. Your liver has hundreds of jobs to do each day and is a primary organ of detoxification, along with the skin, lungs, and kidneys. Your liver has to process so many things to be eliminated from the body in order for you to be healthy. Remove the things from your life that stress your liver, such as sugar, frequent alcohol and environmental toxins, and support your liver by giving it the building blocks it needs to work at its best. Some of the best foods for your liver are beets and beet kvass or juice, greens, cruciferous vegetables, garlic, fatty fish, olive oil, berries, and green tea. Using an infrared sauna and implementing detox support such as dry skin brushing can help take some of the burden off the liver, as can getting the ever-important full night of sleep.
10. I could go on and on, but I will wrap this up with the obvious: Wash. Your. Hands. Any soap will do, preferably one that isn't full of endocrine disruptors. No need to buy special antibacterial soap; in fact, these can be worse in the long run for our microbiome. Just lather up and rub your hands and fingers together, paying attention to your nails as well, for 20 seconds, rinse with warm water for 10, and you're good to go. In my former working life as a dental hygienist, I became very accustomed to washing my hands often and avoiding touching my face. It's habit for me now. Any time we walk in the door of our home, we wash our hands. It's just good common sense in any circumstance.
The bottom line here is that we live in a world that is full of microbial invaders. We cannot control them all or prevent them from being in our midst. What we can do, however, is become a host that is inhospitable to them. Best practice would be not waiting until there is a global health crisis to begin paying attention to our own terrain and to strengthening it for whatever is to come now or in the future. Our bodies are created with an innate intelligence to both stay well and to also recover from these microbial assaults when they do occur. It happens every time we come up against a cold or flu or stomach virus - sometimes without our knowledge that our bodies are doing their job to prevent the illness.
The best way to be good stewards of the bodies we have is to remove the stressors that hinder them, and fortify them with the necessary tools for growth, repair, and healing. This is part of what I do as a functional nutritional therapy practitioner. I help identify areas where the body is struggling and showing a priority need for support through food, lifestyle factors, and often targeted supplementation for a time, in order to bring the body back into a more balanced state. To explore this and other ways I can be of help, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am in your corner, and I love teaching my people how to improve their vitality, navigate the grocery store, detox and restock their pantries and fridges, cook delicious nutrient-rich meals in record time, and break up with sugar so they can truly enjoy the more subtle flavors of real, whole food and experience the amazing benefits to their well-being that follow. These strategies can go a long way toward a healthier life, pandemic or no pandemic. To your exuberant wellness!