These are perilous times for so many creating tremendous concern and in some cases, panic. It is my hope that the science and insights shared in this article will help you to build a powerful immune system and a strong state of mind despite the turmoil around you.
I want to address the seriousness of many issues that lie below the surface of the Coronavirus. Issues that pre-existed before the virus and need to be considered, such as depression, mental illness, hatred, division, pessimism, rage, racism, toxic work cultures and multiple other negative emotions that derive from patterns and habits we have allowed into our psyche, our society and our lives. These issues are serving as a proponent to the spread of disease as well as the decline of morale in our society.
The 10 habits listed below will empower you to improve your mental and physical health, boost your immune system and change your life.
1. Habits of Thinking
90% of your daily decisions, actions, feelings, and beliefs are controlled by your subconscious mind. Over the course of your lifetime, many ideas, thoughts, beliefs and skills have entered into your mind creating neural pathways and networks of these pathways. Even now you are still building on or creating new networks with what you read, listen to, talk about and think about. Depending on how often you rehearse a thought, a network can form in as early as 21-30 days. This is true for both positive or negative thoughts and habits.
We all recognize that with each thought, you create a feeling. These feelings are derived from the neurochemistry released through neurotransmitters into the blood stream. When you think negatively, your autonomic nervous system responds with cocktail of stress hormones such as cortisol, neropinephrine and adrenaline. The brain and body have no discretion about whether it is life threatening or not. It is merely responding to the signals you are sending it. With negative thoughts, fears, anger, worry and stress, you create an inner state of survival sending all of your energy away from supporting your immune system in order to provide you with the strength and resources to survive a threat.
Opposingly, with positive, hopeful and kind thoughts, we suppress the stress hormones and, instead release serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, just to name a few. These are the “feel good” hormones and are readily available to us whenever we choose no matter what is going on around us. Those who are low in these are typically, sad, angry, bitter and even depressed leading them right into the trap of lower immunity followed by sickness and disease. Choose to become self-aware and immediately reframe every time you catch yourself thinking poorly in any way. Turn off the media and decide to limit the amount of bad news you will allow into your heart and mind every day. You have full control.
2. Habits of Movement
It always amazes me how many people see only the physical benefits of exercise. Due to this belief system, most people will quit when they don’t see the results they want of their efforts in a few weeks. Afterall, exercise is work and we have to make time to do it.
However, I tell my clients often, that the reason I exercise is not for the body, but for the mind and the health reasons. When we exercise regularly (3-5 days per week for stents of 20-30 minutes at a time), the pituitary gland floods the body with endorphins. These endorphins will have the following effect on you:
- Greater Clarity
- Less Brain Fatigue/Fog
- Reduce Depression
- Decrease in Stress
- More Energy
- Increased Creativity
- Higher Immune System Function
- Improved Immunoglobulin levels (IgA, IgG & IgM)
- Decrease in Pain
- Improved Sleep
Furthermore, endorphins are 200 times more powerful than morphine! If you are not utilizing this habit, you are missing out one of the most powerful immune and productivity boosters. In addition, according to The US National Library of Medicine, “It is generally recognized that IgA, due to its dominance in the immune system of mucous membranes, is the first line of defense against harmful environmental factors. It is believed that the concentration of secretory IgA (sIgA) varies depending on the physiological state and physical activity.”
Regular exercise is not only crucial heart, lungs and immune function but to the entire endocrine system, which is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things. It can be said that it is ultimately the lynch pin to our overall state of mind and even to our level of confidence.
3. Habits of Gratitude
Robert A Emmons, Professor of Psychology at UC Davis and a leading scientific expert on the science of gratitude states, “It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep. Gratitude reduces lifetime risk for depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders, and is a key resiliency factor in the prevention of suicide.”
Gratitude also lowers levels of creatinine, an indicator of the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the bloodstream, and lowers levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of cardiac inflammation and heart disease.
Emmons states, “By valuing and appreciating friends, oneself, situations and circumstances, it focuses the mind on what an individual already has rather than something that’s absent and is needed.”
According to UC Davis Health, here are just a few powerful benefits related to daily gratitude practices after only 2 weeks:
- 28% reduction in stress
- 16%-19% reduction in depression
- 23% lower cortisol (stress hormone)
- 7% reduction in biomarkers of inflammation in cases with congestive heart failure
- 9%-13% lower levels of Hemoglobin A1c, a key marker of glucose control
There are many, many other statistics on the effects of gratitude. It is truly a strong proponent to good health and higher immunity against all disease.
Begin this new habit by choosing to write out and recite 9-10 things you are grateful for every day. Consider a gratitude journal and choose to reframe often and especially when tempted to look at what you DON’T have instead of what you DO have. No matter where you are in life, there are always things we can be grateful for and when we learn to make it a habit, that’s when we alter our state of mind, ultimately affecting our immune function.
4. Habits of a Healthy Gut
The foundation for a thriving immune system is a healthy gut. When the approximate 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our stomach and digestive tract are healthy, we are healthy. But how do we create a healthy gut?
There are several ways to do this and some we have already been mentioned, such as reducing or managing stress more effectively and exercising regularly. I would encourage you to do your own research on this but I do want to mention very unhealthy culprit to destroying our gut health…. SUGAR.
Consuming sugar or sugar creating foods/beverages or even artificial sweeteners may cause dysbiosis, which is an imbalance in gut microbes. In fact there have been some studies with animals that reported aspartame increases some bacterial strains linked with metabolic disease.
In addition to healthy eating choices and limited sugar intake, one method I used has been very effective to my health. Consider going on a gut cleanse. In fact, I lost 19 pounds and my husband lost 38 pounds in only about eight weeks. Furthermore, he had struggled with multiple digestion issues previous to the cleanse and now, no longer suffers. Through this process, I learned so much about what it takes to truly be healthy and take care of those 100 trillion microbiomes appropriately. Educating yourself is critical to creating the awareness you need to live a long and healthy life.
Additionally, just as your brain and heart have neurons, so does your gut. This means that your gut is constantly communicating with the rest of you in terms of overall health. It also has memory so you can train it to accept whatever diet you offer and it will adjust and eventually expect that diet. This is true even if what you are feeding your gut is extremely unhealthy. This along with our chemistry, is the source for creating and maintaining certain eating habits. But all of this can be changed if you choose to do it.
5. The Habit of Deep Breathing
Deep breathing once or twice per day can make a significant difference in lowering stress and reducing stress hormones such as cortisol. It also helps get oxygen into your blood stream and creates a calming effect. Below is a quick reference for “Box Breathing” a very powerful way to reduce stress and gain clarity:
- Sit in a quiet or peaceful location
- Breath in through your nose to the count of 4
- Hold at the top for 4 seconds
- Breath out through your mouth to the count of 4
- Hold at the bottom for 4 seconds.
- Do this for 2-4 minutes
Making a habit of this reduces blood pressure, muscle tension and anxiety giving your immune system a chance to operate effectively.
6. The Habit of Fresh Air
Spend 30 minutes per day in the sunshine and fresh air!
In 1918 the Spanish flu pandemic swept the world infecting an estimated 500 million people worldwide (1/3 of the world’s population) and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million including 675,000 Americans. The medical teams were strained to find remedies and the hospitals were overloaded. In all the chaos, they discovered that patients who were located outside in the open air were recovering much more quickly. In fact “open air therapy” became a powerful opponent to the flu virus. The more sunshine and fresh air patients received, the faster they seemed to bounce back from the effects of the virus.
Go for walks, spend time at the park, encourage your children or grandchildren to play outside and your immune system will thank you.
7. The Habit of Fortified Health – Vitamin D
There has been an increasing amount of evidence in recent years that a deficiency in Vitamin D creates a greater susceptibility to infection. Vitamin D has a powerful effect on immune cells, specifically immunologic cells. It is recommended that a daily supplement of 500mg Vitamin D3 be considered but you should always consult your physician.
8. The Habit of Fortified Health – Vitamin C
Vitamin C is another powerful proponent to bolster your immune system as it supports many cellular functions of both innate and adaptive immunities. Research shows vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of tissue all over the body. It is a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen your body’s natural defenses. Antioxidants are molecules that boost the immune system by protecting cells from free radicals. When free radicals accumulate, they can promote a state known as oxidative stress, which has been linked to many chronic diseases.
Studies show that consuming more vitamin C can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%. This helps the body’s natural defenses fight inflammation
Keep in mind that Vitamin C is water soluble so a recommended dose of easy to absorb chewable tablets every 4 hours is optimal taking in between 1000-2000mg per day as is tolerable and as recommended by your doctor.
9. Habits of a Healthy Diet
A Healthy diet should seem obvious. However, many suffer from inflammation and disease as a result of a poor diet and, sadly, is so overlooked by the medical profession as well as the majority of the US.
Your body is a machine with multiple and very complex functions. Each has specific needs in order to thrive and remain healthy. If we constantly consume products that make our system fight to stay alive and toxin free, we are only creating inner chaos and making it nearly impossible to avoid disease. We will have to spend more valuable energy of fighting off the effects of a poor diet than in enjoying vibrant health leaving us sick, tired and in pain.
Take time to understand and learn how to best care for your heart, brain, digestive system, nervous system, muscle function and immune system in order to function at prime levels. Rather than list all of the appropriate foods we should eat, I will leave that up to you to do the research. However, I will say that if you live according to the latest trends, advertisements and boxed, convenience foods, you are setting yourself up for very low immune function and a high risk for disease.
You will always have to pay the price of health and well-being. The question is, “Will you pay for it now with living right and discipline or later with hospital bills and medication?”
10. Habits of Hydration
The brain and body are 75% water. You can live without food for 35-40 days on average. However, you can only live without water for 3 days.
Water is key to health, wellness, vitality, performance and immune function. We lose water daily through breathing, talking, sweating or expelling waste. If you are not drinking enough water you may encounter the following symptoms:
- Lethargy or sleepiness
- Dark colored urine
- Dry skin
In my younger years I used to awake with headaches daily. I disregarded them thinking it was just stress. However, I found that drinking water as soon as I get up and then before bed alleviated the headaches and keeps them away, even to this day.
The more we drink water, the more we flush out toxins through urination keeping our immune system stronger since it is not weakened due to putting out fires elsewhere in the body. Also, hydration increases melatonin, our sleep hormone and when we sleep better, we improve our immune system immensely!
Water also helps the production of lymph. As this fluid runs through our body, it collects bacteria and transports it to the lymph nodes where it is eliminated. The more you consume water, the more you empower your body to work as it was created to.
Overall, staying hydrated with pure, clear water (not soda, coffee, beer, wine, etc.) keeps your body, or “machine”, properly lubricated, clean and running well for optimum health and energy.
In summary, you must CHOOSE every day to fill your heart, mind and body with the right things if you expect to remain healthy at all levels. The decision not to do so, is also a decision …in choosing unhealth. Your mind and body will not do it for you and the consequence to ignoring the needs of your “machine” are very high as we mentioned at the beginning of this article.