I hope you enjoyed last weeks read on tackling social isolation? It seems we are making some progress with flattening the curve as a result of the protective measures that have been put in place - thank goodness!
All this social distancing, despite being challenging/repetitive/isolating/mind-numbingly boring - is helping mitigate spread. I’ve even done a few novel things like tackling some bike ramps with my son as we find innovative ways to pass the time at home. As a family, we have certainly been more engaged, indulging in some epic games of monopoly…. Some future investors in the making perhaps???
So, as we move through another week of stage 3 restrictions and more information comes to hand regarding the pathology of coronavirus, I thought I would give you a little insight into how it works and why it’s so important to keep active and eat well right now.
How does COVID-19 work?
I’ll try and give you the simplistic version because our immune system is a highly complicated beast that bamboozles the best of us!! We’ll start by explaining how the virus inserts itself into our bodies…….
Like many other cold and flu viruses, COVID-19 enters the body through droplet transmission from those who are infected with the virus (hence the need to stay 1.5m apart - no more hugs guys!) A healthy person most commonly contracts the virus through inhalation of particles loaded with the virus where it then causes harm at the site where it enters the body (most commonly the nose).
Once inside the 'host', the virus uses its surface proteins to bind to receptors on human cells (it cannot survive without a ‘host’ as it can’t replicate without being inside another organism). The coronavirus seems to have an affinity for our respiratory cells and so once it binds to these, it inserts its RNA (viral genetic material) and begins to have a bit of a party! It’s a very opportunistic little microbe and once its invaded a few cells, it then makes more and more copies of itself by invading neighbouring cells and doing the process all over again!
It’s now that our bodies recognise they have been invaded – sound the alarm and send in the troops, we need to shut this invasion down! Reactively, the body triggers an immune response in the form of an army of immune cells that infiltrate the infected area. Now for most of us (around 80%), this initial immune response will work just fine and dandy and we will recover rather rapidly with a mild to moderate illness. BUT for those who may not have such an awesome immune system or have co-morbidities that may predispose them to illness , the virus can overcome the initial attack and find its way into our lower airways where it can really cause some issues. WARNING, WARNING, WARNING our bodies really don’t like a viral load in the small lower airways and may now cause a powerful secondary immune response to combat the enemy.
It is this second immune response that can cause some serious lung damage, as the immune cells may now start to attack our own lung tissue as well as the virus! You guessed it, this is NOT a good thing! Now I’ll stop with the pathophysiology there because what I want you to understand is that research seems to be alluding to the fact that if we have a powerhouse of an immune system and a body that is primed to fight, we can potentially mitigate the virus in its early stages and thus have a milder version of the illness. Essentially, we cannot prime our immune system to prevent coronavirus – vaccines are really the only thing that can do that. BUT if we ensure our body is functioning at optimal capacity - a heart that has the capacity to deliver oxygen to the rest of the body, lungs that can provide adequate gas exchange into the blood and kidneys that can filter toxins proficiently, we can give ourselves every opportunity to fight off infection.
So how can you prime your body to be its best and help support your immune system?
Firstly, we need to look at what we’re putting in our mouths. We know that through a varied and nutrient dense diet, we can naturally source a plethora of vitamins and minerals from food. When we get our recommended daily intakes, these powerful micronutrients can provide the foundation for a healthy immune system. I found a great resource on nutrition for COVID-19 which highlights some important foods to have in your diet: (source http://food.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/138/2020/03/Nutrition-Recommendations-COVID19-Final-1.pdf)
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is an important nutrient involved in immune function and can be found in many fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, spinach, cantaloupe, mango, peppers, and tomatoes.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D has many roles in the body, including contributing to immune function. Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and in small amounts in some dairy products, egg yolks, and mushrooms.
Zinc: Zinc deficiency has been shown to increase susceptibility to various pathogens. Incorporating meat, seafood, tofu, nuts, and beans into your diet will ensure adequate intake of this immune-boosting mineral.
Vitamin C: While Vitamin C will not cure your cold, it may help maintain immunity. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits (like orange, lemon, and grapefruit), berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers, and broccoli.
Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can promote a healthy gut and immune system. Probiotics can be found in cultured dairy products like yogurt and fermented products like kimchi.
It is also worth noting that avoiding inflammatory foods such as highly processed products (some of the worst offenders are pre-packaged microwave meals and frozen pizza) and foods high in saturated and trans fats (again pre-packaged cakes and sweets are serial offenders here…). These foods promote inflammation in the body which causes the immune system to up its game and ‘mop up’ the mess left behind…… Not ideal when we’re trying to prime ourselves to be in optimum shape!
So how does your diet stack up?
And what about lifestyle?
There are also lifestyle changes we can make in order to increase our immunity:
Be physically active: Exercise helps your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) work more efficiently by increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues through increased heart rate and metabolism. Our guidelines recommend being active on most (preferably all) days of the week.
There are also many theories on how exercise may potentially increase your immune system:
It may flush bacteria out of the lung, reducing your risk or getting colds and flu
It causes changes to antibodies and white blood cells- they circulate more rapidly and so can detect infection earlier.
The brief rise in body temperature during exercise may prevent bacteria from growing.
Exercise can slow the release of stress hormones and we know that lower stress levels improves our immunity.
Now being stuck at home my present some challenges to maintaining a regular exercise routine so we have put together some low impact workouts you could do at home. I have included the links to these below. Please feel free to share some feedback with me on how you went and what other forms of exercise you would like. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Practice good sleep hygiene: getting the recommended 7-9 hours per night can help support a healthy immune system. While we sleep, our bodies are busy rebuilding tissue, replenishing cells and restoring energy. Sleep hygiene can be a whole blog in itself but the basics include routine around bed time and getting the right quality and quantity of sleep. There’s a reason why you wake up feeling amazing after a good nights sleep!
Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Stress has been shown to decrease immunity by supressing the immune response (thanks cortisol!). A fantastic way to do this is through meditation. Meditation has become a global sensation with every person trying to fit it in to their daily routine. Again another whole blog topic but anything that can get you out of sympathetic overdrive “fight or flight” nervous system and into our parasympathetic “rest and digest” system, will benefit you greatly. Going for a walk or practicing yoga are great ways to de-stress.
All right, there it is your COVID-19 survival kit! I hope you can take away some helpful tips and better understand why you need to keep fit and active. I think there will be some positive changes ahead once this pandemic clears and there is no reason why you can’t continue to keep your body in its best shape going forward.
Take care, Kel
Workout 1: Yoga
Workout 2: Cardio (Boxilites)
More about Kelly Nicholas
Kelly Nicholas holds a Health Science Degree in Paramedicine and currently works as a Paramedic for Ambulance Victoria. Kelly is also a qualified personal trainer with a Bachelor Degree in Exercise Science and has completed a specialisation in nutrition for exercise professionals. Kelly and her business partner Louise Moss, run Change it up Training - a small business specialising in training and motivating others to be the best/healthiest version of themselves.