Did you miss Part 1 – Planning for Your Mental Health? Check it out on TheBlog here.
With regards to our physical well-being, studies show that being sedentary can pose severe immediate and long-term health risks to our systems. For many of us, now that we are under quarantine and working from home, this means hours and hours of sitting, with rare pauses for a walk to our typical favorite office lunch location, or to and from our office parking lot, or even down the hall to pop into our colleague’s cubicle to discuss a project. Studies suggest that spending hours in a chair can cause all kinds of damage to your body, and even shorten your lifespan.
Listed below are some possible areas of concern regarding your physical health and reasons to make sure we keep moving while we’re sheltering-in-place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Vascular problems - If your lower legs and feet get tired, swollen and achy, you could be experiencing blood and fluid pooling in those areas after a long period of sitting. In the worst cases, you can develop deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which can lead to clots and, in rare instances, death.
- Lower back pain and spinal issues - Prolonged sitting puts significant stress on spinal structures, as well as other joints such as the shoulders and hips, especially when sitting with poor posture, says Eric K. Holder, MD, a Yale Medicine physiatrist. “When we sit at our computers, we often slouch, craning our necks forward, which, over time, can lead to persistent postural misalignment.”
- Heart disease - It’s clear that sitting—like a lack of physical activity in general—is a contributing factor in many cases of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in both men and women. In addition to decreasing the blood flow to the legs, sitting impacts things like sugar regulation and blood pressure—by altering the normal function of blood vessels, it can contribute to diabetes and heart attacks.
- Weight gain and obesity - Some studies show an association between prolonged sitting and weight gain, and an especially strong link with diabetes.
- Cancer - Sitting at work and a sedentary lifestyle, in general, appear to be independent contributors to cancer, just like eating too much red meat or smoking.
For more information on how to help decrease these risks, please reference this link from Yale Medicine Specialists.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented pandemic that has indisputably impacted our lives. As communities throughout the world look for ways to minimize risk, maintaining and boosting good health is top-of-mind for many. Numerous steps, such as hand washing, staying hydrated and being physically active can minimize the risk of illness. One of the best defenses is to maintain a healthy immune system, and healthy diet can play an important role.
A Look at Your Body's Natural Defenses
With all the concern surrounding COVID-19 (coronavirus) and other viral infections like the flu, we need to look at what we can do to support our natural defense system.
This is the time to look at your lifestyle and see what you are capable of changing. Proper hand sanitation is the number-one method of control, but what else can you do to support your immune system?
Food and Drink Intake
Avoid alcohol, fried foods, sweetened foods or beverages and the over-consumption of food in general. I know we all love our Zoom Happy Hours to stay connected with others, but consider replacing that glass of wine with a mocktail every now and then to help keep you healthy. You can still socialize with a fizzy cranberry juice in a champagne glass!
Alcohol depletes several antioxidants from our bodies. High sugar or high carbohydrate foods severely tax our immune system and can cause inflammation, which inhibits our body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Increase your daily intake of locally grown, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. They have natural antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that help to support our immune cells and protect them from damage. Wash all fruit and vegetables (including organic ones) because of pesticide and herbicide residue, which can increase the need for more antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
The fiber in vegetables and fruit helps to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which is where 70% of your immune system resides, and can be eaten cooked or raw.
Try a variety of cooked mushrooms – they help increase macrophages (immune cells) around our nose and mouth. Mushrooms are also a natural source of vitamin D.
Remember to use fresh herbs. They contain natural antimicrobial properties and are power-packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Remember to increase high-fiber food intake slowly over one to two weeks to avoid gastrointestinal complaints.
Nuts, seeds and fat from plant sources are high in minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, iron, and many other vitamins and antioxidants. Try to include a small handful of nuts and seeds as a snack daily, and add a plant-based fat to at least one to two meals per day, such as avocados or olives.
Foods containing probiotics help to increase the beneficial bacteria counts in the gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics also help to maintain your gut-barrier and prevent “leaky gut.” A good bacterial balance in the gut helps to regulate immunity in the rest of the body by managing inflammation.
Aim for foods that naturally contain probiotics, such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, cultured pickles, organic and grass-fed plain yogurt, cottage cheese and plain kefir. Remember to avoid excess sugars to avoid inflammation and stress on the immune system. Try adding fruit to naturally sweeten plain items.
Prebiotic foods feed the existing flora and help them remain abundant. This includes bananas, garlic, onion, whole grains, chicory, leeks, beans and legumes, asparagus, and honey.
Sleep Is Key
Experts recommend seven to hours of sleep each night for adults, and you may need even more than that if you have chronic health concerns. When our sleep is compromised, we are putting our immune system in danger of not being able to restore itself. Poor sleep quality increases our natural stress hormone cortisol, which increases inflammation.
Poor sleep can also lead to increased hunger and caloric consumption because of energy needs. Sleep helps the body repair all cells (including those in the immune system) and reduces inflammation that supports your body’s capacity for maintaining good nutritional status.
Light exercise within your comfort and ability helps support the immune system and flushes the lymphatic system -- another source of surveillance for our body. Don’t overdo it, though. Excessive exercise can harm your immune system and cause fatigue.
Monitor your stress and take a break! Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and put you at risk by reducing nutrients provided to support your healthy cells.
Tips for reducing stress:
- Set a TV and social media limit for yourself, especially if you feel it’s impacting your sleep or stress level throughout the day.
- Try relaxing exercises such as yoga, swimming or walking. Exercise can also relieve stress and boost endorphins. Meditation, prayer or mindfulness can also be helpful.
- Read a book or magazine, or complete a puzzle or coloring book.
- Get some sun. Sunshine is important for both mental and physical health because your body uses sun exposure to make vitamin D. Without it, you might be more susceptible to infection, fatigue and moodiness. A lack of vitamin D will leave you feeling sluggish, contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, and cause muscle aches, pain and weakness.
- Talk to a friend or family member (preferably about happy things!) and don’t self-isolate. Studies have shown that loneliness, in addition to grief (especially if you have the inability to process due to quarantine), can interfere with the immune system.
With these tools in hand, you should have the confidence and the opportunity to build and support your immune system.
Thank you to my colleagues that helped to support this document with their feedback and wisdom: Yale University, Lee Health, Dr. Carol Brady and Dr. Jonathan Spero.
Carlin Putman, CMP
Meeting and Event Specialist