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2021 New Year’s Resolution: Strengthening Your Immune System

With the close of 2020 comes the much anticipated feat of making, and attempting to adhere to, New Year’s resolutions. This is the time when “tomorrow” becomes “today” and “try” becomes “do.” According to an Inc. study of 2,000 people, the 10 most common resolutions that were made last year (2019) were to eat healthier, exercise more, save money or spend less, learn something new, quit smoking, read more, change jobs, drink less, spend more time with family and friends, and get organized.

As can be seen (and, well, probably expected at this point) the number one resolution of 2019 (and every year, it seems) was to eat healthier. More than two thirds of American adults are considered to be overweight or obese. Thus, it shouldn’t be too surprising to see that nearly half of the above-mentioned resolutions include ways Americans are trying to be healthier. Still, according to Time, eating healthier and losing weight are the most commonly broken resolutions.

While there are many plausible reasons as to why it is so hard to stick to our New Year’s resolutions, I think it is important to instead focus on how we can overcome barriers and make steps towards personal success. According to the American Psychological Association, the key to making resolutions stick is to start small and change only one behavior at a time.

Fast forward to 2020, a year that has challenged many people, in more ways than not. In reflecting on 2020, I would be remiss not to acknowledge this hurt: the uncontrollable string of wildfires, airplane crashes in Iran and Pakistan, the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, social unrest over the killing of George Floyd, the deadly explosion in Beirut, various natural disasters, and much more – all under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is nothing we can say or do that will erase the struggles people have encountered this year, but what we can do is recognize the good, and focus on what we can control, leaving behind what we can’t. At 6AM Health, we were recently discussing the importance of strengthening our immune systems both in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming winter months. So, we are here to provide you with some small behavior changes that you may want to consider adopting as part of your New Year’s resolution this year.

For some quick background, your immune system is an intricate, codependent structure of white blood cells, antibodies, complex proteins, networks, and organs. Some parts of the system act as literal barriers, preventing viruses and bacteria from reaching organs like your brain, while others hunt and remove invaders from your body.

And, luckily enough for us, there are ways we can boost our immune system! While it is important to note that a strong immune system will not prevent you from contracting COVID-19, it can help to sustain your body as it familiarizes itself with the new virus in the event that you do get sick. It also doesn’t hurt to have a strong immune system, as it can help you fight common colds or flu viruses.

So, the moment you have all been waiting for… 5 ways to boost your immune system!

1. Exercise!

According to Harvard Medical School, regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living, as it improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. While the act of exercising doesn’t directly boost your immune system naturally, exercise can (and does) contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system.

Here are some COVID-friendly ideas:

  • Put on some music and walk brisky around the house or up and down the stairs for 10-15 minutes 2 or 3 times per day.

  • Dance to your favorite music, jump rope, do an exercise video or a live or recorded exercise class, or use home cardio machines.

  • Walk or jog around your neighborhood, spend time in nature, go for a bike ride, garden or do yard work, or play active games with your family.

  • Try yoga (bonus: deep breathing and mindfulness can also reduce anxiety!).

  • Free exercise apps to try: Nike Run Club, Nike Training Club, Lotus Yoga, 7 Minute Workout, SworkIt

2. Get quality sleep.

You’ve heard us say this again and again: sleep is one of the most important health behaviors for a lot of things in life, including mental and physical health, quality of life, and an optimal immune function. The CDC and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (ASSM) recommends 7+ hours of sleep for adults, 8-10 hours for teens, and 9-12 hours for school age children.

Here are some COVID-friendly ideas:

  • Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.

  • Don’t take naps after 3:00 pm, and don’t nap longer than 20 minutes.

  • Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day.

  • Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, quiet, and not too warm or too cool.

  • Free sleep-related apps to try: Sleep Cycle, Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds, White Noise Lite

3. Manage your stress (I know, easier said than done)

According to the American Psychological Association, stress weakens the immune system. More specifically, long-term or chronic stress, through too much wear and tear, can ravage the immune system. This emerging area of research is beginning to trace the pathways of the mind-body interaction, signaling to us the importance of taking care of our minds.

Here are some COVID-friendly ideas:

  • Relax your muscles by stretching or taking a hot bath or shower.

  • Practice deep breathing.

  • Experiment with meditation and/or yoga.

  • Take a walk to get a change of scenery, which can get you into a different frame of mind.

  • Free stress management apps to try: Calm, Colorfy, Dare, Shine

4. Eat nutritious meals and stay hydrated.

Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong! According to Harvard Medical School, healthy immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment. In fact, balanced nutrition can enhance your ability to resist infections and remain healthy.

Here are some COVID-friendly ideas:

  • Eat modest amounts of a combination of essential vitamins and minerals.

    • Vitamin C (fight against bacteria and infections): oranges, grapefruit, broccoli, strawberries, red bell peppers, tomato juice

    • Vitamin D (fight off infections and maintain strong bones): salmon, mushrooms, fortified milk, cereals, breads

    • Vitamin A (regulate immune system and keep tissues and skin healthy): sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, spinach

    • Vitamin E (antioxidant to fight cell damage): peanut butter and other nuts and plant based foods

    • Zinc (antioxidant to boost metabolism and help heal wounds): meat, shellfish, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds

  • Eat a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, heart healthy fats and lean proteins.

  • Free nutrition apps to try: MyFitnessPal, MyPlate, LoseIt

5. Incorporate immunity supplements into your diet.

Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Chris D’Adamo, helped create a prevention strategies guide for COVID-19, encompassing functional medicine tips on optimizing immune function during the coronavirus outbreak. D’Adamo recommends using Vitamin C, D, A, Zinc, Selenium, Raw Honey, Garlic, and Probiotics supplements in moderation to keep the immune system functioning at its best.

Here are some of our 6AM Health team’s favorites:

I know it seems like I just threw a lot at you, but think about it this way: look how many small behavior changes there are to choose from! The possibilities and combinations are endless. Our health and our immune systems are now in our control.

I plan on starting 2021 off by practicing yoga at least once a week to manage stress and trying a new immune system supplement. Where will you start?

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