Center your health in the new year
2020 was a rough year. As we move into 2021, it’s never been a better time to make a resolution to be more mindful of self-care. Here’s a list of 7 ways, backed by studies, to boost your immunity and improve your well-being.
1. Get moving
Make sure you’re getting enough movement in your day. Exercise stirs up a surge in your immune cells. Studies have shown that moderate exercise, on a regular basis, gives your immunity a boost. Commit to taking a swift walk 40 minutes a day, or riding a bike, or some other activity you enjoy that’ll get your heart pumping. Daily is great, but even a few days out of the week makes a difference. Shorter bursts of heart pumping movement are also key. New medical research, conducted by Zhen Yan, PhD, “strongly support[s]” the likelihood that exercise reduces the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Stop what you’re doing and take a few minutes to focus on you. That’s right… even a few minutes can make a difference, and longer when you’re in the zone. Studies show that regular meditation can improve your overall health. It decreases stress, so your immune system can better ward off infections. According to studies, meditating regularly can improve sleep (number 4 on this list) and mental health, and it can even benefit brain function, among other things, all of which are connected to immune health. Try a set of mantras to shift your mindset. The mind-body connection is a powerful thing. My tip: When it comes to meditation, don’t get too hung up on the rules. You may find it works best when you color outside the lines.
3. Improve what you take in
To boost your immune system pay special care to what you take in. We’re talking foods and vitamins! According to studies, vitamin D is vital to immunity, and a lot of us are lacking — Taken in modest doses, vitamin D can protect against respiratory infections. A recent study showed 80% of patients with COVID-19 had a vitamin D deficiency. Zinc is also vital to the immune system. Always check with your doctor when it comes to vitamins and supplements (you don’t want to mix with certain medications and health conditions). And take potential side effects into consideration. Foods naturally high in zinc include lentils and beans. Some other nutrients considered crucial to immunity, are vitamin C, iron, and protein. Keeping your gut healthy is important as it impacts your immune system. Aim for a balanced diet, including prebiotics (fruits, vegetables, beans and whole wheat), and probiotics (such as yogurt).
4. Get enough sleep
According to experts, adults need a minimum of 6 hours of sleep a night, but 7-8 hours of sleep is ideal. The immune system restores itself through a series of biological processes while you sleep. A lack of sleep can also cause problems such as obesity, diabetes and poor mental health, all of which relate to immune health. So to stay healthy, be sure to catch plenty of Z’s.
5. Check in with others
Studies show that people who have a good support system have better physical and mental health, and live longer. Feeling isolated can cause stress and other issues that can impact the immune system. Staying social requires more creativity during a pandemic. You can facetime, hold group chats, take an online class, or hang outdoors with family, or a friend (so long as you’re observing social distancing protocol). If your place of worship is closed, you can look into virtual services. As someone who’s interested in meditation and prayer (but doesn’t subscribe to a particular religion, and isn’t a fan of organized religion in general), medical studies that look at prayer and health, pique my curiosity. Fun fact: While it draws skepticism, studies have shown a connection between prayer and health. Studies conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities suggest that people who pray have better health outcomes and survival rates. Since prayer is a form of meditation, the two areas of study are often combined. Harvard scientist, Herbert Benson, MD, has conducted medical studies in this area for decades. He’s documented physical changes in the brain during meditation, concluding it promotes healing. “For Buddhists, prayer is meditation. For Catholics, it’s the rosary. For Jews, it’s called dovening. For Protestants, it’s centering prayer. Every single religion has its own way of doing it,” he’s explained.
6. Limit social media
Lock up those devices! Okay, well, don’t lock them up, but do set a limit. Ever notice you feel drained after too much scrolling? Scrolling for too long can put you into fight or flight mode, triggering high levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and suppressing secretion of melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Not to mention the impact of blue light. Your body’s sleep-wake cycle associates blue light with the sun, so too much blue light at the wrong time of day, can affect your internal clock. Staying connected online can be beneficial for adults, but because the internet is designed to be addictive, it’s important to note that overuse can be detrimental to your mental health, especially to developing young minds. Studies have shown social media is linked to depression and anxiety (and issues with mental health and self esteem in young people). Be sure to set limits! And keep your phone across the room (or better still, out of the room) while you’re sleeping.
7. Raise your vibration
Considering that stress lowers your immune response, now is a good time to point out the obvious… that we should all be working toward raising our vibration — Listen to music, dance, watch a good stand-up, laugh, try a new recipe. Remember to do the things that’ll make your heart sing, like kitchen karaoke.
Here’s wishing you all a calm and happy New Year… no pressure!
جوليا ديانا— Julia Diana Robertson, is an award-winning author, and journalist—A first generation Arab-American, who grew up between worlds, and currently resides somewhere in the middle with a bird’s eye view.