This is an incredibly stressful time for so many of us right now. Many of us are in a state of quarantine, a lot of us have lost access to our gyms (with that, you may lose your regular exercise routine as well as your sense of community), and several have lost their jobs. There is fear about our access to food. And there is uncertainty about how long this will last. This is a recipe for stress and anxiety. And here’s the thing – we know that when we are chronically stressed, our immune system suffers.
Our current state of affairs makes it even more challenging to access fresh, healthy foods and exercise. So, here are my top recommendations for maintain your physical health during this time:
- Move every day. You really don’t have to have a gym, or any equipment. It seems like social media is flooded with free workouts. Or, you can simply go for a walk. I don’t know about you, but we have a stay-home order in place in Denver, but, we are still allowed to go outside for exercise. Obviously, getting outside and moving is not only good for your mental health, but it’s vital for your physical health. It enhances immune function and also completes the stress response. Oh, and bonus – if you get 10-30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, your body can synthesize some vitamin D.
- Stretch! Chances are, you’re sitting more than you normally do. Or, perhaps you’re sitting on a less-than-ideal chair (e.g. your couch). What this means for you is tight hips, which can lead to low back pain. But, I understand that an ergonomic set up may not be possible when you’re at home. So, be sure to stretch. I encourage everyone to do the following 2 stretches each day for at least 30 seconds on each side. That’s 2 minutes total! I know you have 2 minutes in your day!
- Figure 4 stretch and hip flexor stretch:
- Develop a sleep hygiene routine. Our bodies naturally produce melatonin in response to darkness, But we are spending way too much time on social media, and this can be overly stimulating to our systems. Perhaps you can implement a no-screen practice for the hour leading up to bed. Wash your face, brush your teeth, spend 5 minutes breathing, maybe do your stretches! If you can develop a regular, consistent routine before you go to bed, it will signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. And the more we sleep, the better our adrenal and immune systems will function.
- Drink lots of water. You already know this. But, did you know that when we are more hydrated our saliva is more adept to kill bacteria and viruses that enter our mouths? It’s true – our saliva contains an enzyme called lysozyme, which can kill pathogens when they enter our mouth, but we must be adequately hydrated!
- Limit your intake of sugar and processed foods. Not only do sugar and processed foods lead to increased inflammation, but perpetually high levels of blood sugar can contribute to insulin resistance. Why does this matter? Well, cortisol release from our adrenals works to raise blood sugar levels by breaking down glycogen, lipolysis, protein catabolism and liver gluconeogenesis (whereby your liver makes glucose). What increased blood sugar levels mean – is instant fuel for your muscles so that you can fight or flee. What this means for you is perpetually high levels of blood sugar, which can have deleterious effects on your cardiovascular health and the health of your nerves.
- Get plenty of magnesium, zinc, vitamin B1, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D3, and vitamin E. So, what does that mean, practically speaking? Here are some foods that should be more readily available that can be great to implement:
- Pumpkin seeds – an excellent course of magnesium
- Chard – rich in vitamins C, K and magnesium; helps to balance cortisol release
- Bitter greens (e.g. kale and arugula) – these greens not only are a great source of vitamins A, C, K and magnesium, they also help to stimulate our hydrochloric acid production in the stomach. Why does this matter? Well, if you ingest a pathogen the hydrochloric acid can kill it before it makes it to the intestines, where it could get absorbed and make you sick! (an aside: if you’re taking antacids, please stop! You’re definitely affecting your immune system and knocking down you main line of defense against ingested pathogens).
- White beans – rich in phosphatidyl serine, which helps in clearing excess cortisol; also provides prebiotics, which can feed the good bacteria in your gut
- Flax seeds – rich in alpha linoleic acid; enhances optimal cortisol levels
- Cold water fish – a good source of our essential fatty acids (DHA & EPA), which supports brain function for appropriate hypothalamic/pituitary signaling. Salmon, cod and tuna are great examples of cold water fish and are also a source of vitamin B6
- Nuts – rich in vitamin E, and also a source of protein if you aren’t eating any animal products during this time
- Dark, leafy greens and broccoli – these are great sources of vitamin C and vitamin A, respectively, along with other micronutrients
- Bone broth – contains glycine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that promotes calm and plays a critical role in initiating normal REM sleep. Chicken bone broth contains a compound called carnosine, which can help to thin mucus. Bone broth is also a great source of protein and other micronutrients
- Garlic – supports immune function and feeds healthy gut bacteria
- *If you’re having a hard time finding fresh foods, consider looking at services like Thrive Market or even small, locally-owned stores – they may have more supplies than you’d expect. Also, don’t be afraid to eat canned fish and frozen vegetables during this time. Best you can, try to choose organic, especially when it comes to the dirty dozen. Exposure to pesticides and herbicides can have immediate negative effects on our endocrine system.
- Probiotics – If you’ve recently been on antibiotics, it’s imperative that we restore our natural healthy microflora. The experts at Whole Foods and Natural Grocers are adept at helping you find the appropriate probiotic. Keep in mind that things like kombucha, fermented foods and yogurt do contain probiotics, but typically are not sufficient to restore the gut biome after taking antibiotics. Eating prebiotic foods can help to feed your microflora (e.g. onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes).
- Zinc – this is one of the only supplements that has been shown to be effective in preventing illness. Consider supplementing with zinc, especially if you aren’t eating any red meat. Keep in mind that zinc can cause some GI issues, so start with low doses at first.
- Adaptogenic herbs – ashwagandha, ginseng, holy basical and Kava Kava can support your adrenal system. *Note: these herbs are contra-indicated in all patients with hormone-related cancer.
Wherever you are, know that we are not alone in this. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about how I can support you in maintaining your physical health during this time.