As we all welcomed the new year, a new spike in COVID-19 cases occurred. Omicron variant is said to have its community transmission in our country, due to the spike in cases, also as we celebrated the holidays (Omicron local transmission likely due to rising cases). Covid is likely reminding us that it is still here and we are still amidst a global pandemic.
With that in mind, you may be wondering about things you can do to avoid getting the virus. While there are some things we can do to naturally boost our immune system, we must remember that these steps do not guarantee that we won’t catch COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself is still to get vaccinated when it is made available to you, wash or sanitize your hands often, wear a face mask when you are in public or with people outside your household, lessen or avoid being in enclosed public places if it can be helped (How to Protect Yourself & Others, Advice for the public: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
In general, sustaining a strong immune system helps us to counteract getting sick. Even with COVID-19 around, it is still best to help our bodies fight off other viruses or infections, and other disease-causing pathogens. Bawal magkasakit! While researching medically approved and evidenced based articles, one of the favorite things I came across is this:
“The idea of boosting your immunity is enticing, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is precisely that — a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires balance and harmony… Researchers are exploring the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response, both in animals and in humans. In the meantime, general healthy-living strategies make sense since they likely help immune function and they come with other proven health benefits.” (How to boost your immune system)
Fortunately, jacking up on vitamins and supplements is not the only way to strengthen our immune system. I’ve listed down some natural ways you can do it. Please remember that before you start some of the things recommended here, you must consult your primary physician, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.
1. Minimize or reduce stresssays SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD). When we are stressed, our bodies respond by initiating a stress response, which is meant to help us handle stressful situations. It is this stress response that suppresses our immune system, which consequently increases our chance of infection or sickness (Katie McCallum).
Something as simple as deep breathing for a minute or two can help us manage our stress. Other ways to do this is by meditating, doing yoga, journaling, or engaging in a light physical activity. Perhaps a short run? I know these have all worked for me. Especially the short run!
2. Get adequate sleep
Not having enough sleep and poor quality sleep are linked to higher chances of getting sick. We all know how puyat affects our day, and if this happens too often, this will affect our health. We need adequate sleep each night to keep our immune system functioning optimally. Adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Children and teens need more.
I’m sure most of us have trouble sleeping, but what has worked well for me is limiting my screen time for an hour before my bedtime. Research suggests that the blue light from our phones, TV, and other devices may disrupt our circadian rhythm, or our body’s natural wake-sleep cycle (Suppression of Blue Light at Night). Yes, may limit dapat ang oras natin sa Netflix at Kdrama!
3. Hydrate frequently
I remember there would be times, in the middle of the day, I would have a slight headache and this would worry me. I would ask friends who are doctors for advice and the first question they always ask is: “Have you been drinking enough water today?”
While hydration doesn’t necessarily protect us from viruses, but it is important to prevent dehydration, since it can cause headaches. Dehydration also affects our focus, mood, digestion, and other organ function. Complications from dehydration can increase our susceptibility to other illnesses.
Water is still the best, but if you find it hard to drink only water, doctors have recommended natural fruit juices with limited to no added sugar. What has worked for me so far is fresh buko juice and squeezed dalandan or orange. Things we can find on the side of the road or the market! I also keep my own basil and tarragon plants, making them into tea is also quite relaxing. Remember to consume at least 2 to 3 liters of fluids daily.
4. Add some probiotics to your diet
Probiotics are made up of good bacteria that helps keep our body working well. This good bacteria helps us fight off bad bacteria when we have too much of it.
Sabi nga ng Yakult commercial: “Ok ka ba, tiyan?” It is part of almost every Filipino’s childhood to grow up with Yakult, as it has been successful in addressing stomach issues because of its Lactobacillus casei Shirota strain. More than that, Yakult doesn’t contain fat, preservatives, and cholesterol.
But if you’re not the Yakult type, here are other local probiotics you can try: Kombucha, kefir water, or probiotic ginger beer. Lots of local brewers can be found on Facebook and Instagram.
5. Eat more whole and natural food
What are whole foods? These are food that are those that are not processed at all or processed minimally. General examples are whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Basically just think of food that don’t have labels with a million different unpronounceable ingredients in them. Yes, dagdagan natin ng gulay at fresh fruits ang ating diet! We don’t necessarily have to ban junk food in our lives, but junk food did get that nickname for a reason. Balance it out with whole, less processed food. Steam or boil your kangkong and add some garlic to taste. Kangkong is said to be high in beta-carotene, natural antioxidants, protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fibers. It is also rich in electrolytes, like sodium and potassium. What other local vegetables can you think of?
6. Get Some Sunlight
In my experience, part of the supplements prescribed by my doctor, when I was COVID-positive was Vitamin D. It is said to be crucial for our immune system. Since most of us are expected to stay home since the pandemic started, there is a big change we might not be getting enough of natural Vitamin D from the sun. Hopefully there is an area in your home or a safe space near you where you can get some time under the sun. Feeling and seeing the sun can help improve our sleep, reduce stress, and fight off depression (Six Natural Immune Boosters). Remember though, that too much is harmful for our skin. It is important that we apply sunscreen, even if we’re getting some sunshine for only 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Exercise regularly
How does exercise help boost our immune system? Regular exercise is one of the stalwarts of a healthy life. One way exercise may increase our immune function is by boosting overall circulation in the body, like helping immune cells and other infection-fighting molecules travel throughout our body more easily. It also lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health and helps control body weight. Naturally, this then makes our bodies stronger in fighting different diseases.
Also, when we exercise, our body releases chemicals called endorphins. These trigger a positive feeling in our body. Exercise is good for the heart, mind, and body!
Aim to engage in moderate exercises, don’t over do it. Overdoing exercise could still lead to some complications, so always remember balance is key. Also if you have preexisting conditions or comorbidities, please seek advice from a physician. Take a 20 minute walk before you start your day. Do some yoga, sign up for a fitness class which is moderated by a coach. Steady cycling, swimming, outdoor hikes, and running are also good examples of moderate exercises.
So far my favorite activity is running. All you need is a pair of sturdy shoes and a wide open space, then you can run. Libre lang tumakbo! I always tell myself that a slow or a short run is better than no run at all. In many ways, running is my personal meditation. It allows me to focus and stay in the present.
I know, not everybody likes running, but if you need extra motivation, join the Pinoy Fitness Community, download the PF mobile app, and sign up for free virtual races. I discovered the app in mid-2020, Season 1 of the pandemic. It has motivated me to keep running so I could reach distance goals monthly and quarterly. There’s nothing like a healthy challenge and friendly competition that could push us to do more and be better.
Making lifestyle changes is truly difficult, I mean, making changes in general takes a lot of effort and time. It’s a process that needs a lot of support from family and friends. But most of all it needs your commitment to follow through. The Pinoy Fitness community (add FB page and IG here) and getting a coach who makes a fitness program for my personal needs have been quite helpful to me, as I work on these lifestyle changes. It’s nice to be part of a community where we can support each other reach our personal goals. Moreover, doing the steps above have kept me sane amidst this global pandemic. If you’re not there yet, I hope to see you in the PF community soon! Takbo na tayo!