We are almost hitting 2-years of a global pandemic and new strains continue to emerge. How to stay strong and healthy this winter. To learn more, we conducted an interview with Dr. Seema Bonney, a functional medicine doctor and the founder of the Anti-Aging and Longevity Center of Philadelphia.
1. As the Omicron variant is emerging, what things should people start focusing on regarding their health?
We should always be focused on keeping our immune system balanced to help our body respond to invasions by viruses. Factors within our control that may weaken immunity include stress, vitamin D deficiency, micronutrient deficiencies such as vitamin A, B6, C, zinc, selenium and vitamin E, smoking, excess alcohol intake and high BMI. Factors that improve immune response: balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, whole grains, and probiotic foods such as yogurt, daily exercise, maintaining a healthy BMI, stress management practices, adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night).
2. How important is our immune system in general and at this stage in particular with these new variants arising?
The immune system has an important role with the omicron variant, primarily because of T lymphocyte cells. A T cell is a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system. T-cells help protect the body from infection. They are on watch circulating and ready to defend against foreign substances. These t-cells are highly effective at recognizing and attacking the Omicron variant, helping to prevent most infections from progressing to critical illness. These t-cells cross recognize the variant either through vaccination or prior infection.
3. What type(s) of diet do you recommend to boost our immune systems?
A diet rich in anti-oxidants, polyphenols and micronutrients. Som of the best immune boosting foods include leafy greens, whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, citrus fruits, bell peppers, yogurt, almonds, sunflower seeds, turmeric, green tea, poultry, and shellfish.
We should also avoid pro-inflammatory foods such as, refined carbohydrates (white bread, sugary treats, sweetened beverages) red meat, and other processed foods.
4. Are there some specific exercises one can practice to boost his/her immune system?
Regular exercise is a pillar for healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight and protects against a variety of diseases. 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise is recommended for overall health in addition to a minimum of 2 strength training sessions. Exercise contributes to general good health and thus a healthy immune system.
5. Sleep is a major factor for a powerful immune system. What do you recommend one should do to improve his/her sleep quality?
We recommend 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night. This can be a challenge for some. Some tips for supportive sleep. 1) Create rhythm – our body operates on an internal clock – the circadian rhythm. Consistent wake and bed times help support a healthy rhythm. 2) Early morning natural daylight, 15-20 minutes just after rising helps the body recognize wake time and can be helping in improving sleep. 3) Eliminating and or reducing caffeine, and avoiding it altogether after noon. 4) Daily exercise – moderate daily exercise increases the amount of slow wave sleep you get, this is the deep sleep where the body and brain have a chance to rejuvenate. 5) Night time routine – avoid eating or drinking 3 hours prior to bed, turn down the lights to help stimulate melatonin, avoid the use of screens which suppresses melatonin, create a to do list for the next day to avoid swirling thoughts at bed time, sip chamomile tea, read a book if it helps you fall asleep.
6. What effects does sunlight have on our immune system?
Vitamin D has a crucial role in human T-cell activation and immune response. Vitamin D is produced in the skin in response to sunlight.
7. Do you recommend using technology to help in boosting our immune systems? Can you elaborate on that?
Wearable technology, apps and CGM’s (continuous glucose monitors) can certainly raise awareness and provide support when it comes to overall health. Lifestyle factors that help boost immunity – exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep – can all be tracked and supported via technology. There are apps for meditation, food journaling, macronutrient/calorie tracking, workouts on the go and so much more. Wearable technology such as the apple watch or the whoop, track heart rate, steps taken, provide accountability for standing and doing a daily workout. These devices can also be used to analyze sleep and send reminders to take a deep breath when an increased heart rate is sensed. CGM’s are beneficial for diabetics or pre-diabetics, it measures your glucose levels 24 hours a day and send results to your smart phone or wearable device. The continuous feedback on diet, exercise and insulin can help a user make more informed decisions.
If you used properly and consistently, technology can be a supportive and informative guide to boosting overall health and thus overall immunity.
8. Is there a relationship between mental health and a boosted immune system?
Stress and anxiety have a tremendous impact on the immune system. Excess levels of stress produce hormonal changes that lower the body’s resistance to infections. However, periodic or situational stress and anxiety are not the issue, it’s the chronic state of stress. Elevated levels of cortisol can suppress the immune system. It is important to take care of your mental health to boost your physical health. Mental health is health.
9. What are ways you recommend people take care of their mental health amid this pandemic?
Implement self-care strategies and practice them consistently:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat healthy
- Avoid smoking and excess alcohol
- Limit screen time and social media surfing
- Meditate, yoga, mindfulness
- Limit news intake
- Connect with others
- Get outside
- Focus on the positive
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