Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2, also known as SARS-CoV-2 and 2019-nCoV, is a new strain of coronavirus that was identified in humans last December. The disease associated with the virus, Coronavirus Disease 2019 or COVID-19, has become a global pandemic. It’s the first pandemic ever caused by a coronavirus and so far it’s spread to 182 countries and territories around the world and killed more than 11,000 people, although these statistics are changing every day.1 Currently, there are no medicines that can prevent or treat COVID-19 but there are measures we can take to reduce our risk of infection. Physical distancing and hand-washing are essential, but we can do more.
Here are eight other things my family is doing to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic
#1 | Getting Plenty of Sleep
Sleep helps regulate our immune system and makes our white blood cells more active against viruses and bacteria. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that healthy adults who slept at least eight hours each night had a higher resistance to upper respiratory infections than those who slept seven hours or less.2 To optimize immunity, my family is getting plenty of sleep: eight to nine hours per night for adults, ten to twelve hours for kids under the age of eight, and eight to ten hours for kids aged eight to eighteen.
#2 | Maintaining a Regular Routine
Our bodies are sensitive to our daily routines. Sleeping a different number of hours or even the same number of hours at different times can disrupt our circadian rhythm and the hormones that control immunity. Everyone is encouraged to stay home as much as possible during the pandemic, in efforts to slow the spread of 2019-nCoV. This change in daily routines is unavoidable, but we can minimize the impact on our circadian rhythm by maintaining our regular schedule. That means waking up, going to bed, and eating meals at the same times each day, seven days a week.
#3 | Preparing Healthy Meals
A healthy diet is essential to maintaining a healthy body and a strong immune system. Every day our bodies require vitamins, minerals, fiber, fat, and protein. To get everything we need, meals should contain at least fifty-percent non-starchy vegetables, animal or plant-based protein, and at least one form of healthy fat like cold-pressed oils, raw nuts, avocados, olives, and non-toxic seafood. I also recommend emphasizing foods that have shown a positive effect on natural immunity including onions, garlic, peppers, ginger, coriander,3 and fermented foods containing live cultures that strengthen our microbiome like unpasteurized vinegar, sauerkraut, kim chi, miso, and yogurt.
While the grocery stores are still reasonably well-stocked, I’m serving my family lots of soups and salads, and plant-based appetizers like home-made hummus and roasted eggplant dip with veggies for dipping: strips of bell pepper, rounds of cucumbers and radishes, and carrot and celery sticks. I’m slow-cooking meats like roasted chicken and braised short ribs, and roasting vegetables for easy side dishes whenever my oven is already on. I’m cooking fish and seafood on the stovetop with aromatic ingredients like tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, olives, capers, and lemon juice. I’m serving fruit, yogurt, and cheese for dessert. And I’m limiting the adults to one serving per day (or less) of sweet or starchy foods (rice, potatoes, pasta, cereal, bread, crackers).
#4 | Being Physically Active Every Day
Studies show that regular exercise is associated with fewer upper respiratory infections and less severe symptoms.4 I’m missing my usual workouts because gyms and pools in New York City have been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re also being asked to keep a distance of six feet from non-family members and stay inside our homes except for necessary outings which include food, medicine, and solitary exercise (no team sports). To give New Yorkers a place to do some of that exercise, Central Park remains open. I live a short walk away so I’ve been spending at least an hour once or twice each day walking, biking, and playing with my three-year-old daughter, which often includes an enthusiastic game of tag and the climbing of boulders, trees, and hillsides.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, things are changing every day. There may come a time when I’m not able to go outside to exercise. Some people are already under quarantine and unable to leave their homes for any reason. But as long as we’re healthy, we can still exercise at home by doing calisthenics like push-ups, squats, burpees, and abdominal crunches. We can use jump ropes, resistance bands, medicine balls, kettlebells, dumbbells, and barbells. And for people who need inspiration and/or guidance, fitness videos are a good resource. Fortunately, there is no shortage. A quick search for “youtube exercise video” turned up more than a billion results.
#5 | Practicing Relaxation
Stress, like the fear and anxiety common during pandemics, is bad for the immune system. It triggers our adrenal glands to secrete stress hormones like cortisol as part of an inherent survival instinct. Cortisol prepares the body for “fight or flight” action by raising alertness, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and suppressing bodily functions that aren’t immediately necessary, like immune surveillance, the search and destroy mission of our white blood cells that protect the body against viruses and bacteria. Relaxation has the opposite effect, lowering stress hormones and countering the negative impact on immunity. Any kind of relaxation will do: meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, or even a long walk in the park, which is my personal favorite. I’ve also been doing qi gong every morning and breathing exercises every night before bed.
#6 | Taking a Break From the Media
Continuous coverage of COVID-19 can make it difficult to relax, so I’m taking regular breaks from the media. It’s important to stay informed, so my family is following reliable sources of information like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while making more time for unplugged activities like reading books, playing games, solving puzzles, doing art projects, and cooking delicious meals together.
#7 | Staying Connected Even in Isolation
It’s on purpose that I use the term “physical distancing” rather than “social distancing.” Maintaining a physical distance is important right now because it limits the spread of 2019-nCoV, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be social. Socialization is important for emotional health, but it’s also good for the immune system. Research studies have shown an association between social isolation and an impairment of antiviral immunity.5 To stay connected, my family is reaching out to loved ones via phone calls, emails, and video chats.
#8 | Taking Supplements to Support a Healthy Immune System
There is no medicine—natural or pharmaceutical—that has been proven to be an effective cure or preventive measure for COVID-19. Efforts are underway but research on 2019-nCoV is in its infancy and we still have a lot to learn. In the mean time, I’m giving my family some extra support with supplements known to increase immune surveillance and defense like probiotics, vitamin D, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, and elderberry.6 While they aren’t specific to 2019-nCoV, elderberry and zinc have been shown to inhibit other coronaviruses, which cause infection by attaching to a host cell, entering the cell, and using it to make more viruses. Elderberry7 can interfere with the attachment and replication of other coronaviruses, while zinc8 can inhibit them from entering cells.
Ask Your Naturopath
If you want to support yourself or your family with supplements, ask your naturopathic doctor for individual recommendations regarding dosage, interactions, and contraindications. Many physicians are now offering remote consultation so otherwise healthy individuals can avoid unnecessary travel to their office.
1 World Health Organization. Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation. ArcGIS website. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/685d0ace521648f8a5beeeee1b9125cd. Accessed March 21, 2020.
2 Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, and Turner RB. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(1):62-7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19139325
3 Kunnumakkara AB, Sailo BL, Banik K, Harsha C, Prasad S, et al. Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked? Journal of Translational Medicine. 2018;16:14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5785894/
4 Nieman DC, Henson DA, Austin MD, and Sha W. Upper respiratory tract infection is reduced in physically fit and active adults. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2011;45(12):987-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21041243
5 Xia N and Li H. Loneliness, Social Isolation, and Cardiovascular Health. Antioxidants and Redox Signaling. 2018;28(9):837-851. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831910/
6 Wu D, Lewis ED, Pae M, and Meydani SN. Nutritional Modulation of Immune Function: Analysis of Evidence, Mechanisms, and Clinical Relevance. Frontiers in Immunology. 2018;9:3160. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6340979/
7 Weng JR, Lin CS, Lai HC, Lin YP, Wang CY, et al. Antiviral activity of Sambucus FormosanaNakai ethanol extract and related phenolic acid constituents against human coronavirus NL63. Virus Research. 2019;273:197767. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31560964
8 Phillips JM, Gallagher T, and Weiss SR. Neurovirulent Murine Coronavirus JHM.SD Uses Cellular Zinc Metalloproteases for Virus Entry and Cell-Cell Fusion. Journal of Virology. 2017;91(8). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28148786
Sarah Cimperman, ND is the author of the new book, The Prediabetes Detox: A Whole-Body Program to Balance Your Blood Sugar, Increase Energy, and Reduce Sugar Cravings. She graduated from NCNM in 2002 and has a private practice in New York City. Her expertise has been featured on Fox News and Huffington Post and in Natural Health magazine, Whole Living magazine, and the Well Being Journal, among other publications. Dr. Cimperman also writes two blogs, A Different Kind Of Doctor and The Naturopathic Gourmet.