Your health comes from the inside. It always has, and it always will. A healthy diet and lifestyle are essential for a strong immune system. Here are simple daily habits, shared one-at-a-time which makes them easier to incorporate in our daily lives to strengthen our immunity to fight against Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Habit #1: Indulge yourself in moderate physical activity

It is an established fact that regular, moderate physical activity helps in strengthening our immune system by decreasing inflammatory response and increasing immune regulation. Exercise reduces the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol inhibits the immune system.

Exercise helps move and flush pathogens out of the airways, causing antibodies and white blood cells to circulate more rapidly to the farthest reaches of the vascular system. The temporary increase of body temperature with exercise may weaken or kill certain bacteria or viruses (similar to your body’s fever response). However, during these times of self-quarantine and social-distancing, it is not totally safe for all of us to get out be it for a run or a workout. Therefore, you can follow some home-workout regimes from among these — an indoor 30-minute brisk walk, cleaning the house or performing chores such as washing clothes/utensils manually, using stairs instead of the elevator, high knees, jumping jacks, plank, yoga and other stretching exercises. These exercises may seem easy but contribute significantly to working-out the body.

Happy Exercising :)

Habit #2: Include ‘gut-healthy’ foods in your diet

Here’s the next one — the second healthy habit to build a strong immune system is the addition of gut-healthy foods in our diet. A good gut-health leads to a stronger immune system and is essential for overall health. The good gut-bacteria acts as a communication bridge between the brain and the immune system. A healthy gut-microbiome helps the body mount a response against infectious pathogens like many viruses and prevents any immune-reactions that may damage the lungs & other vital organs.

Healing on its own has always been the body’s go-to mechanism which has been designed to protect us from diseases. Our intestinal wall or gut acts as the first line of defense against any disease-causing pathogen entering our body and thus it is important to protect & strengthen it through the food that we eat.

Our diet is a big determinant of what range and types of microbes are a part of our gut-microbiome. The best way to encourage the growth of good gut-friendly bacteria is to include a variety of foods in your diet.

Addition of foods rich in oligosaccharides (a type of natural sugar) & fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains like ragi, jowar, bajra, whole wheat, rice, oats, pulses & legumes like rajma, chole, chana, soya, moong, masoor etc and nuts & seeds in the diet serve as prebiotics or food for the growth of a healthy microbiome.

Regular consumption of dairy products like milk, curd or buttermilk as well as fermented foods like idli, dosa, appam, pickles, dhokla, kanji etc also supports the growth of healthy gut-flora as they contain good bacteria or probiotics which lead to better gut-health and improves overall immunity.

However, we should try our best to avoid processed and packaged foods with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or other additives as they cause a shift in the microbiome & disrupt the microbial balance.

Stay healthy. Keep safe. And do not forget to wash your hands :)

Habit #3: Don't skip that daily dose of Vitamin C

We’ve all grown up listening to the old saying, An apple a day keeps the doctor away, which implies that eating foods that are rich in certain vitamins and minerals may help your body fight infections and ward off illness. Along with having a healthy gut flora for a better immune system which we discussed in the second habit, getting an adequate amount of vitamin C is extremely crucial. 

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant and is abundantly found in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system and encourages the production of white blood cells or fighter cells in the body to protect us from any infection.

The addition of fruits and vegetables in the diet will ensure that you’re getting your vitamin C dose on a daily basis. 

Foods like amla, broccoli, spinach, strawberry, kiwi, guava, cherry can also be great sources of vitamin C apart from lemons & oranges!

They can even be blended into smoothies, vegetable juices, milkshakes, or topped on some yogurt along with nuts & seeds like almonds, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or watermelon seeds!

So, when life gives you lemons (or more), Eat them :)

Habit #4: Add a variety of foods to your diet

Most of our eating pleasures come from foods that look beautiful. Foods come in different colors and often are associated with a variety of beneficial nutrients. Adding variety to your diet is the 4th healthy habit you need to inculcate for better immunity and overall health. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to do so -- a diet which comprises different kinds of foods is always healthier as compared to eating the same thing on a daily basis.

No single food has all the nutrients and can provide you with complete nutrition that’s why adding a variety of foods to your diet is really important. 

Micro-nutrient deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, or vitamins A, B6 or E are all linked to a weakened immune system. Including a variety of foods in the diet helps ensure that you are getting all the macro and micro-nutrients that your body needs to strengthen your immunity and stay strong from within to fight against infections.

Some simple & healthy ways to improve variety in your diet:

1. Apart from wheat & rice, include a whole grain like ragi, bajra, jowar, oats, sooji, quinoa etc in your diet at least twice a week.

2. Add legumes like rajma, chole, chana, lobia, etc to your diet instead of having dal every day. Include a bowl of vegetable raita for lunch or dinner. You can also sprinkle some nuts & seeds like almonds, walnuts, watermelon seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc on plain yogurt.

3. Add different vegetables to your favorite soup, juice, sandwich, or lunch & dinner for additional variety, nutrients, and taste.

4. Opt for a mixed fruit salad, instead of having the same fruit every day.

5. Switch to different cooking oils like sunflower oil, rice bran oil, mustard oil, olive oil, soybean oil, etc every month. 

Along with following a healthy diet, we must keep ourselves hydrated, get enough sleep, including more fruits and vegetables in our diet, avoid eating outside food and foods with added sugar & rather keep healthy snacks in stock at home. 

After all, a healthy outside starts from the inside :)

Habit #5: Maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D & B12 in your body

We’ve almost reached half-way through our habit-building series for better immunity. These healthy habits in your daily life to help stay strong from within during these tough times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Poor regulation of the immune system can occur due to lower Vitamin D & B12 levels. Therefore, maintaining healthy levels of both these vitamins is the 5th healthy habit for a stronger immune function that all of us must be aware of.

Lack of vitamin D in the body increases the risk of auto-immune diseases and weakens the adaptive immunity which creates memory cells in the body against a particular disease, similar to the immunity you develop to jaundice or flu once you’ve had it. It is ideal to spend 15–20 minutes in the sun (without sunscreen) to amp up your vitamin D levels as the sun is a natural source. Fish, eggs, cod liver oil, and mushrooms also serve as food sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin B12 is found in all animal products like fish, meat, chicken & eggs. Milk and milk products are vegetarian sources of B12. However, supplementation is needed in case you have a deficiency or are unable to obtain these nutrients through your diet.

Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of white blood cells (WBCs) which is essential for proper immune system functioning. Not only can a lack of B12 lower your immunity but some immune system disorders can increase your likelihood of becoming deficient. Sufficient intake of vitamin B12 has also been linked to helping in the growth of a healthy gut-microbiome resulting in a stronger immunity.

Eat healthy. Stay positive. And practice social-distancing :)

Habit #6: Meditate to keep your Mind Calm

The present scenario has led to a lot of stress and restlessness everywhere around us. It is important to keep ourselves calm and take a deep breath. Practicing mindfulness and being more continuous of the moment can help create calmness and reduce stress. Our brain is closely connected with our body’s vital organs which is why achieving optimal spiritual & mental health will help get the best out of our immune system.

Meditating regularly, even if it is for 5–10 minutes in a quiet & comfortable environment. This will help to reduce the inflammation-induced due to stress and also activate the fighter cells to fight against any disease-causing microbes entering our body.

Research suggests that mindful meditation increases the activity in the prefrontal cortex, right anterior insula, and right hippocampus of the brain. These areas of the brain act as our immune system’s control centers. Thus, their stimulation leads to the more effective functioning of the immune system.

For starts, you can try listening to calming background music or follow a guided meditation. Meditation will help you avoid feeling cluttered and isolated in these times of strict social-distancing!

Habit #7: Don’t skimp on your sleep

Need another reason to get a good night’s sleep? This might be it. Sleeping is a natural state of the body and has to be taken care of in order to lead a healthy lifestyle. A good sleeping pattern can help you strengthen your immune system by enhancing the body’s ability to fight against pathogenic microbes. Learning why & how we must prioritize sleep for better health & immunity is the 7th daily habit we must reflect upon.

Most of us compromise on our daily sleep due to hectic schedules and deadlines, trying to squeeze in more productivity on less sleep. Scientifically, a good 7-8 hours of continuous sleep is required for optimal health. Lack of sleep can make you feel groggy & struggling when you should be feeling refreshed & energetic throughout your day.

Not getting proper sleep slows down the body’s recovery process. The body is unable to produce cytokines which help in reducing inflammation in the body caused due to an infection or underlying stress.

A good bed-time routine like a warm shower, reading, listening to music, planning your day ahead, making your bed before going to sleep, and keeping away from digital devices or social media at least 2-3 hours before going to bed can significantly help in improving your sleep quality.

So let’s use this time of self-quarantine to make up for all the all-nighters pulled off and prioritize sleep especially for those who are feeling sick or making small lifestyle changes to help strengthen the immune system.

Habit #8: Cut down on alcohol & smoking

The 8th healthy habit of this series is to build self-discipline to cut down on smoking and alcohol. It should come as no surprise that a healthy diet and an active lifestyle are extremely effective ways to boost your immunity to protect you from various diseases. Stress levels, alcohol, smoking and your day-to-day environment can be one of the few factors in your lifestyle that could be compromising your body’s overall well-being. 

Reducing smoking and alcohol is not only beneficial for the overall health but it also helps combat the damage caused to the body and strengthen the immune system over time.

Alcohol weakens the intestinal wall which acts as the first line of defense against pathogens. Nicotine in cigarettes increases cortisol levels while reducing B cell antibody formation and response to antigens by T cells thus making the lungs more susceptible to infections than non-smokers.

Smoking also decreases the potential immunity-boosting properties of antioxidants like vitamin C which fights against any free radicals produced in the body & is essential to build strong immunity.

Habit #9: Take control of your mental health

This is the last & final habit for improving your body’s immunity. I sincerely hope these daily guidelines have helped you & those around you become more aware of the science behind improving your immune system to stay strong during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last guideline to a better immunity is — To focus on self-care and taking charge of your mental health during stressful situations.

Panic and worry have never got anyone out of a tough situation. It is important for all of us to keep calm and wait for the current scenario to subside. However, none of this is possible unless we all strictly follow the guidelines which are being implemented by the government and the health care professionals.

Whilst we all stay at home, indulging in self-care can be beneficial for our overall mental and emotional well-being. Writing a journal, listening to music, reading a book, spending time with family and kids, cooking, reviving old hobbies, or connecting with our loved ones over a call or video call can help ease out the stress, anxiety & loneliness kicked in during these times of strict self-isolation.

The pandemic has certainly led to a lot of panic and anxiety amongst us and it is important that we not only take care of the health of our family and friends but provide them with the mental and emotional support that they need. It is important to also keep our kids well-informed with the correct facts and how to minimize their risk of being infected.

Keep Safe. Stay at home. And we shall get through this together :)