The current prediction is that a worst-case scenario could see 80% of people in the UK infected with Coronavirus. We are bracing ourselves for an epidemic, and sure, there seems to be no magic wand that we can wave to keep us healthy.
But are there things that we can do to give ourselves the best possible chance? Or maybe just to arm ourselves for a quick recovery?
Professor Arne Akbar, the president of the British Society for Immunology and a professor at University College, London says “To be immunologically fit, you need to be physically fit. White blood cells can be quite sedentary. Exercise mobilises them by increasing your blood flow, so they can do their surveillance jobs and seek and destroy in other parts of the body.”
The NHS says adults should be physically active in some way every day and do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
The other side of the coin, however, is ‘elite athletes’ become very susceptible to infections because you can exercise to a point where it has a negative impact on your immune system. This problem is unlikely to affect most of us unless you go from being inactive to suddenly highly active. This could introduce stress hormones and negatively affect your immune system. Seek advice from a fitness professional in order to gradually increase your activity at a safe pace and avoid over-training.
One of the many happy side-effects of exercise is that it reduces stress, which is next on our list of immune-boosting priorities. Stress hormones such as cortisol can compromise immune function.
Regular exercise and a balanced diet consisting of a plethora of vitamins and minerals will likely have the knock-on effect of helping you sleep better, which is a bonus because a body that is fatigued further encourages production or cortisol and is more susceptible to bugs.
And forget boozing through the Coronavirus crisis. Heavy drinking depletes our immune cells. Some studies have suggested that the first-line-of-defence macrophages are not as effective in people who have had a lot of alcohol, and there’s been suggestions that high alcohol consumption can lead to a reduction of the lymphocytes (white blood cell) so if the bug gets into you, you’re not going to be as good at containing and fighting it off.”
When it comes to nutrition, all vitamins are important, but Vitamin D has become a hot topic in immunology and is something that people in Britain can get quite low on in the winter. Also, Vitamin C is crucial to immune function.
In terms of Coronavirus, it’s mostly spread by droplet transmission, as far as we can tell, so the biggest thing is hygiene. Wash your hands, and sneeze and cough into tissues between sniffles. No one can completely avoid getting sick, not even top immunologists.
Continue to exercise regularly or gradually increase your activity
Avoid over-training and allow your body time to recover
Sleep well and avoid fatigue to manage stress levels
Eat a natural and well balanced diet consisting of extra fruit and veg – focus on colourful!