Given the current state of the world, I thought I’d take a minute to share my “secrets” for staying healthy and protecting your immune system.
After developing an autoimmune disease that caused me to get sick all the time from 2016 – 2018, I have only been sick one time in the past year (a minor cold that went away after two days).
To put that in perspective, my wife is an elementary school teacher and we have a 6-year-old in school and three-year-old in daycare. We have seen our share of germs run through our house (including, but not limited to, croup, bronchitis, the flu, pneumonia, stomach bugs, conjunctivitis, ear infections, sinus infections, hand foot and mouth disease, etc.). Not COVID-19, it seems.
Wanna know how I’ve managed to stay healthy while everyone around me is sick?
Read on to find out some proven methods you can use to give your immune system a boost.
How to Stay Healthy: 3 Things You Should Focus On
1. Sleeping. If you struggle with sleep, I can’t stress the importance of creating habits that help you sleep better enough (more on this below). Sleep loss and disrupted sleep are strongly linked to inflammation. And inflammation makes you more susceptible to illness. I was an insomniac for years. While I still wake up a few times during the night, my sleep quality and consistency has improve exponentially since I started making sleep a priority. My best tips: i.) go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, ii.) sleep in a dark, quiet space (a white noise machine can do wonders), iii.) if your mind spins in bed, focus on slowing your breathing and thinking about the people you’re thankful for in your life.
2. Eating / Supplementing. What you eat has a profound effect on your immune system response. It’s well known the modern Western Diet is one of the worst culprits when it comes to inflammation. If you don’t put the right foods and drinks in your body, you will get sick more often. Period.
The tricky part is finding the “right foods” for you, and then creating systems (or habits) that’ll help you eat healthy habitually every day (most peoples’ systems do the opposite).
Try getting both allergy and microbiome testing done as a first step. I recommend Viome for the microbiome test … it’s $120 or so. These tests will tell you exactly which foods you should / shouldn’t be eating. As I said in one of my emails, personalized nutrition is the future of healthy eating. And the future is here and accessible to all!
My “systems” that help me stay healthy include:
- Cooking everyday. I know that if I get takeout or go to a restaurant then I’m usually not going to eat as healthy. So I try to only eat out about once a week and the rest of the days I make time to cook for myself and my family. I schedule time on my calendar from 5-6ish every day to cook dinner and prepare lunches for everyone for the next day.
- Planning meals ahead of time. Even if you don’t like cooking, you can still create systems that help you eat better by having a plan for meal time. If you don’t have a plan, you’ll likely succumb to the easy way out (which is usually food you know isn’t going to help you stay healthy). It can be as simple as writing down a more nutritious takeout option you’re thinking about for dinner instead of fast food, or as complex as tracking everything you eat (I prefer the former, personally). Be deliberate and specific about what you are/are not going to eat today.
- Avoiding trigger foods and sticking with foods I know don’t cause an inflammatory response in my body. Again, go see an allergist and get your microbiome tested to see which foods are good/not good for you.
- Spending most of the grocery budget on perishables. I don’t like wasting food, so I know if I load my shopping cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, I will make sure they get eaten. Minimize the processed, carb-laden snacks in favor of fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds (or smoothies with all of these, ideally!). One of my easiest systems I use is creating a grocery list without junk food on it each week. If it’s not on the list, I don’t buy it.
- Drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated is one of the keys to immunity. Drinking sugar-sweetened coffees and sodas is not. Also, 1-2 glasses of red wine a night may help with immune response.
- Taking supplements. These are some of the supplements I take each day that are proven by research to keep your immune system strong:
- Probiotics / Digestive Enzymes
- Zinc / Calcium / Magnesium
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
3. Exercising. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. It’s well known that our bodies break down as we age. But there’s an easy way to drastically slow that progression: get up and frickin move!
As many of us age we “let ourselves go” and this leads to an endless cycle of injuries and rehab. Exercise is the absolute best way to keep your muscles, bones, and tissues strong. Being sedentary, on the other hand, is one of the worst things you can do for your immunity.
There’s no excuse not to exercise (unless you’re injured and rehabbing an injury). Find something you enjoy doing (walking, golf, tennis, gardening, hiking, biking, swimming, yoga, etc.) and schedule it into your damn calendar every day or every other day. Even 5 minutes makes a difference. Make exercise part of your daily system and you will get sick much less. If you’re still not convinced, check out some of the conclusions from this 2019 research paper:
- Regular exercise training has an overall anti-inflammatory influence mediated through multiple pathways. Epidemiologic studies consistently show decreased levels of inflammatory biomarkers in adults with higher levels of physical activity and fitness, even after adjustment for potential confounders such as BMI.
- There is increasing evidence that the circulation surge in cells of the innate immune system with each exercise bout and the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect of exercise training have a summation effect over time in modulating tumorigenesis, atherosclerosis, and other disease processes.
- Recent studies indicate that exercise and physical fitness diversifies the gut microbiota, but more human research is needed to determine potential linkages to immune function in physically fit individuals and athletes.
Now, the researchers in that study also cautioned that overtraining and stressful competitions can make you more susceptible to getting sick. So it’s important to make time for recovery if you’re exercising hard like I do (stretching, foam rolling, light yoga, percussion and/or massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc.).
Long story short, the best way to stay healthy is to take care of your body (because it’ll take care of you if you do).