Building and maintaining a strong immune system is not exactly a walk in the park under normal circumstances.
But with many communities under stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, even a walk in the park can make some people nervous — provided they can find a park that is open.
So, how to you keep the immune system working in proper order in an era that has been filled with disorder?
New York City-based doctor Jacqueline Jones suggests concentrating on three areas: diet, stress reduction and exercise.
When it comes to stay-at-home eating habits, Jones does not want people getting too comfortable with comfort food around the house.
“Our gut is one of the prime sites for the production of antibodies; an unhealthy GI tract leads to a weak immune system,” Jones says. “Be careful what you eat as we all stay quarantined. Those of us with teenagers — especially teenage boys — are filling our pantries with comfort foods for them. Chips, ice cream and cookies can be very tempting.
“For all of us, looking at the amount of sugar and processed foods we ingest, especially now, is critical. Try to eat as healthy as possible and have one treat per day.”
“Supplements can help to augment a diet rich in good foods,” Jones continues. “The supplements I am suggesting are Vitamin C, zinc and selenium, which all help our bodies to fight off viral infections. Probiotics have also been shown to boost immunity by healthily restoring the good bacteria in our GI tract.”
Sylvie Beljanski, a founder and vice president of the New York-based Beljanski Foundation, believes proper food might be the best medicine. Beljanski is dedicated to fighting cancer and authored the 2018 book “Winning the War on Cancer: The Epic Journey Towards and Natural Cure.”
“More than ever, we need quality food,” Beljanski says. “Fresh, preferably whole, unprocessed or minimally processed plant foods help to provide all-important vitamins and phytonutrients. Cook with fresh herbs such as garlic, rosemary, sage, oregano and spices such as turmeric, black pepper, saffron to add anti-inflammatory benefits.
“Zinc may enhance immune function while helping with blood sugar levels,” she continues. “Zinc picolinate seems to be the best-absorbed form of zinc. Magnesium increases gamma aminobutyric acid, which encourages relaxation, so much needed in this crazy time where anxiety may easily flare up.”
With stress reduction, Jones (who works out of the Park Ave ENT facility) suggests meditation and calming music shortly before falling asleep.
On the other side of the coin, she says that avoiding stressful situations is a key. Since the news focuses on alarming trends and worrisome information, she suggests limiting news consumption to two 30-minute sessions per day.
Exercise may not be the easiest hurdle to clear. Many health clubs are closed, so exercise routines have to be creative. Jones suggests aerobic activities for at least 20 minutes, four to five times a week.
“Strength training, aerobics and getting outside to interact with nature are both good for your body and wonderful ways to combat stress,” Jones says. “Obesity is a risk factor for poor outcomes with most disease.”
Beljanski is a fan of yoga, which had been gaining in popularity even before the virus caused shutdowns.
“Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are paramount in those difficult times — not only to keep our sanity, but some research has shown their benefits for our immune system,” she says.
Beljanski said the mantra of social distancing and rigorous hand washing is important. She also warns about taking antibiotics.
“Antibiotics are no use against viruses,” she says.