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is there a way to boost your immune system?

WOW! What a year it has been here in Spain! Locked down (or basically locked in!), little or no exercise allowed, I can't hug anyone anymore for fear of being issued with a huge fine (and 300 euros is an expensive body rub), but I can make fist, elbow and leg greetings which make me look like I’m Salsa dancing.

I, like billions of other people worldwide, have to wear something on my face which feels like it restricts my breathing and makes me look like I’m ready to launch into a medical surgery procedure, but does allow me to 'throw' my voice and confuse people because they can't see that it’s me. I have to say that part has been the fun element throughout this situation (and has been the only 'fun' thing), my ventriloquist skills have vastly improved since my state-imposed ‘lockdown’.

It's interesting, or should I say, frustrating, observing the differing rules within European countries - gyms closed then open, then closed again..., exercise allowed or not, should you stay 1, 1.5 or 2 metres away from another person? Can I travel in a car with you, if so, do you need me to travel in the boot so you don’t breathe your germs all over me?! But for me, the one thing which was missing (almost in every country) was the lack of information given to the general public by health authorities about the effect of exercise and diet on the immune system to assist the fighting of viruses within the body - an especially crucial aspect during this Covid-19 pandemic.

This worldwide event has reminded us just how important the body’s immune system is, a healthy immune system can help defeat invading pathogens - the keyword here is ‘help’. There are no scientifically proven direct links between lifestyle and enhancing the immune system. Nevertheless, general healthy-living strategies are a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand when it comes to the first line of defence and giving the body a fighting chance to defeat viruses.

As we get older, the capability of our immune response is gradually reduced, which in turn can be a main contributory factor in contracting more infections. Medical studies have identified a connection between nutrition and immunity in the elderly and studies around a form of malnutrition called ‘micronutrient malnutrition’ (where a person is deficient in some essential vitamins and trace minerals), show evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies (such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid and vitamin A, B6, C & E) can negatively alter immune responses.

So what can you do to help keep your immune system operating at an effective level? Well, I could start talking about how monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, neutrophils and eosinophils (all from the Phagocyte family) and the process of Phagocytosis (this process basically ingests and digests the virus or foreign bacteria in the body) - but it probably sounds like I’m naming characters from Game of Thrones. So let’s keep it simple, let’s call this the 'Lifestyle Strategy'.

This ‘strategy’ should always include a balanced, healthy diet, which keeps you at a healthy weight. There have been numerous reports showing that obesity is a compelling factor for becoming exceptionally ill with COVID-19. Including enough fruits and vegetables in your diet (especially ones that are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin B6) shouldn't be a new factor for you in this balance. The medical fraternity has been telling us for years to do this (remember the marketing campaigns various governments adopted around the '5-a-day recommendations?). Eating foods that have high, antioxidant properties, and which can protect you against oxidative stress, such as garlic (the sure-fire way to keep people and vampires at the recommended safe COVID distance ;-), dark coloured berries and beetroot (which is rich in phenolic compounds and has been ranked in the top 10 most potent antioxidant vegetables), are essential foods for your daily routine.

There is also a compelling link between physical activity and the body’s immune system. A structured exercise programme will contribute to the effectiveness of the immune system by promoting good circulation - this, in turn, allows cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Exercise increases endorphins, which helps reduce the stress hormone Cortisol - elevated levels of this hormone can reduce your ability to fight off infection, dopamine and adrenaline (and endocannabinoid - which works with the immune system) - these are chemicals in the brain which are associated with feeling confident, capable, happy, less stressed and having less anxiety. All of which ensures a proper ‘brain function’ but can also help with productivity and mental capacity (and....can improve your immune response).

So in a nutshell, there aren't any 'magic ways' to boost your immune system, just the tried and tested ones which, given the situation over the last 12 months, we all should be participating in!

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