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Scrub your hands, yes,  but don’t forget self-care.

You’ve probably worked out by now that the coronavirus isn’t going away next week – it’s predicted to take months to play out and it’ll be 18 months before a vaccine is available.

Putting in place some medium term strategies to help strengthen our body’s defences, therefore makes good sense.  That’s where self-care comes in – it can make a significant difference to our immune function.

Consider these research findings.

Sleep

  • Studies show that people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.
  • One study found that just one night of getting only 4 hours of  sleep reduced natural killer cell activity by 50%.  Our killer cells normally fire up during the night and  fight viruses and bacteria to keeps us healthy in the long term and short term.
  • The less sleep you get, the less likely you are to be clinically protected by a vaccine, according to this study which tested antibody response to a Hepatitis B vaccine .

Physical Activity
In general, people who exercise have stronger immunity, as long as they don’t over-do it. Here’s what a  recent review on the links between physical activity and the body’s defence system concluded:

  • Randomised clinical trials and epidemiological evidence shows there’s an inverse relationship between regular, moderate exercise and the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.
  • Prolonged, intensive exercise has been associated with an increased risk of infection. This may be because several hours after  heavy exertion, certain components of the immune system is suppressed.  Hence the J curve below (from linked reference above. URTI stands for Upper Respiratory Tract Infection).

Vegetable Intake

  • Older people who eat 5 serves of fruits and vegetables per day, show an 80 percent improved antibody response to their pneumonia vaccination compared to those who only eat two serves a day, according to this study of 83 healthy people aged 65 to 85.  Listen here for 1 min 47 sec summary.
  • Eating less than 5 serves of fruit and vegetables a day is associated with an 8% increase in influenza-related hospitalization rates, according to data collected from 274 US counties, from 2002 to 2008.

Chronic Stress:

  • In the early 1990s, this study found that psychological stress was associated in a dose-response manner with an increased risk of acute infectious respiratory illness.

Since then many studies confirm what our bodies already know  – that after enduring a period of prolonged, high stress, our defences are down and we ‘come down’ with sicknesses in a way we wouldn’t  normally. This highlights the importance of managing our thoughts lest they heighten anxiety as we are inundated with updates about the current pandemic.

I could go on – I haven’t even mentioned the fact that those most vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus are those who smoke, or have existing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease, that can be improved through lifestyle choices – but I think you get my point.

To the advice-list of wash your hands and keep your social distance, I’d like to add:  prioritise sleep, keep moving, eat more green vegetables and manage your emotions.

AND let’s be aware that when we most need healthy habits we humans can be least likely to practice them!  Research shows that when people experience stressful life events such as job insecurity or divorce, they tend to adopt ‘maladaptive’ coping strategies to get them through. Rather than make healthy choices, on the whole people eat more, drink more alcohol, smoke more and exercise less.

Bottom line? Don’t leave your self-care to random passing thoughts during the coronavirus outplay. Instead be very intentional and get support if you need to.