After working in the health and fitness industry for over 40 years, it’s not often I learn a new term. But this week, I did. And girl, it’s a goodie. Immune fitness.
I know. How good. Two of my favourite things, wrapped up in one powerful term that, in my humble opinion, is going to be 2022’s version of “social distancing” or “flatten the curve”.
Now that we’re all vaxxed, masked and experts at elbow kissing and socially distanced chit chat (frustrating for those of us who don’t hear as well as we used to, but I digress), some researchers and doctors are now looking at additional ways for us to protect ourselves against Covid. And immune fitness is proving to be a standout performer.
The term immune fitness was coined by Professor Christine Jenkins, Head of the Respiratory Research Division at The George Institute for Global Health, and basically refers to our bodies ability to fight off disease. If you like science-y words, Professor Jenkins describes it as “the capacity of our immune systems to respond with optimal antibody and cellular responses to an infective insult, whether naturally occurring or delivered by vaccination.”
As potential – if reluctant – hosts of a disease, our immune fitness is a key factor in our ability to either fight it off, which means we don’t get the illness, or fight it out, which means we only get mild symptoms because our immune system kicks into gear and gives it the boot.
There are two things I love about immune fitness:
- We can build it. Like regular fitness, we can improve our immune fitness, our ability to defend ourselves against a variety of illnesses, with pretty simple lifestyle habits. And in this, there is power.
- Everyone can benefit from improving their immune fitness. Everyone. Whether you’re a spring chicken or have aged like a fine wine, have pre-existing conditions or are the picture of health, we can all benefit from practicing these immune-boosting habits.
So how do you build up your immune fitness to help build your body’s natural defence mechanisms?
Surprise, surprise… it’s sleep, exercise, good food and sunshine. Which, to be honest, sounds like an ideal day.
Yep, research shows you can increase your immune fitness with regular physical activity, nutritious food, eight delicious hours of sleep a night and a good dose of Vitamin D.
To help get you going, I’m sharing my tips on how you can move more, eat better, sleep well and get some of that natural vitamin D to strengthen your defences and thrive in 2022.
Exercise, movement, physical activity, working out, walking in the woods, hiking… whatever you want to call it, moving your body is essential if you want to stay healthy, have a strong immune system and strengthen your defence against illness.
If you struggle to make movement a regular habit or find yourself regularly yo-yo-ing with your motivation, I’m here to help.
Tips to make movement a habit:
- Find something you enjoy! This is key. There are so many ways to exercise that don’t involve sweating it out at the gym, so keep experimenting until you find something you like. Some examples include hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, yoga, Pilates, Brazilian ju jitsu, surfing, ocean swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, tai chi, roller derby, trampolining, cycling, barre, dancing, soccer, rowing, tennis… the list goes on!
- A little is better than nothing. A lot is better than a little. Getting into the habit of exercise is all about small steps, so don’t bite off more than you can chew when you’re just getting started. If all you can do is walk around the block, do it!
- Get a goal. Having something to work towards is a great way to stay motivated when the going gets tough. Sign up to an event such as Coastrek or a hike such as the Larapinta Trail, to make walking a daily habit.
- De-stress. Being told to stress less in the middle of a global pandemic, when your body is on high alert simply walking through Woolies, can be pretty darn annoying. But exercise is a great way to reduce stress and reduce its pesky sidekicks (Insomnia! Irritability! Food cravings! Anxiety!), so you can improve your immune system and better protect yourself against Covid-19. Try a calming form of movement such as yoga, walking or swimming.
- Do it with friends or find a community. It’s hard to commit when you’re going it alone. Arrange to meet with a friend for a walk so it’s harder to cancel, or join a community which will support and encourage you every step of the way. Plus, meeting outdoors for exercise is one of the best ways to stay social during pandemic lockdowns or restrictions.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”Hippocrates
Eating a nourishing diet, such as the Mediterranean or Planetary diet, is a great way to stay healthy, reduce your chances of developing obesity, have a strong immune system and strengthen your defence against illness.
Here are my tips for nourishing your body:
- “Eat real food, mostly plants, not too much”. This iconic quote from Dr. Michael Pollan are words to live by. Easy to say, sometimes hard to do. Avoid packet foods and drink more water.
- Plan ahead and fill your fridge and cupboards with delicious fresh fruit and veggies. Hit the farmers market if you can.
- See food as being delicious fuel for your beautiful body, and focus on nourishment rather than restriction.
- Invest in your health by making food from scratch and if you’re too busy to cook every day, do a big cook up on the weekends so you have lots of yummy, healthy food to dive into when you’re hungry.
- If quantity is your challenge, focus on a variety, including every colour of the rainbow, to ensure you’re getting all the necessary nutrients. If you don’t give your body the nutrients it needs, it will want more.
Improve Your Sleep
Poor sleep is a huge risk factor when it comes to ill-health. Improving your sleep quality is one of many simple lifestyle changes that can improve immunity, energy levels and quality of life, as well as strengthening your defences against viral illnesses such as Covid-19.
So, how can we improve our sleep?
- You know it… less screentime in the evenings! If you only do one thing, make it this. Try turning your phone off from 8pm and taking a couple of hours to wind down effectively. Reading a book, taking a long bath, enjoying a cup of herbal tea and/or having sex are all great ways to prepare your body for restful sleep.
- Exercise. If you don’t move your body during the day, you’re going to find it really, really hard to rest at nighttime. Get at least 30-60 minutes of enjoyable movement each day.
- Reduce stress. If you have a whirring mind before bed, try writing down all the things that are stressing you out before you go to sleep. Getting them out of your mind and onto paper can allow your brain to wind down more effectively.
- Sort out your environment. Lots of light pollution streaming through the window? Invest in some blackout blinds. Noise keeping you awake? Try a white noise machine or earplugs. Too hot or too cold? Fans, blankets. You get the drift. Make your space a healthy sleep sanctuary and enjoy the benefits.
There are now many studies showing that Vitamin D, yes – good old fashioned sunlight on your skin – can help protect you against severe Covid. Vitamin D also supports immunity, reduces inflammation and helps your body absorb calcium, which is needed to build and maintain healthy bones, so it’s an easy one to fix for those of us in sunny climates.
It goes without saying that you should be sun safe!
How do you get more vitamin D:
- Most of us need about 10 – 20 minutes a day of sunlight on our skin, so your daily walk is a great way to get it.
- Vitamin D is also found in foods such as fatty fish, mushrooms, and egg yolks.
- If you think you might be deficient in Vitamin D, chat to your health professional because you might need a supplement.
There are a number of lifestyle changes which can help boost your immune fitness, so why not make these simple tweaks and feel stronger and more resilient!