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5 Things We’re Doing to Support The Immune System

We’re currently laying low in Tenerife amid the COVID-19 lockdown. I thought I’d take some time to share the habits & practices I’ve been using to (potentially) support the immune system.

Before we get started, it almost goes without saying that our first point of call for anything COVID-19 related should be the World Health Organisation and local health authorities.

Here’s a summary of the current WHO guidelines on basic protective measures:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. With an alcohol-based hand rub or soap & water.
  2. Maintain social distancing. At least 1 metre between yourself & anyone coughing or sneezing
  3. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. 
  4. Practice respiratory hygiene. Covering your mouth & nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  5. If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

These habits are the foundation. The rest of the ideas in this article are exactly that – ideas that I’ve personally been tinkering with that may or may not help support the immune system a little further. 

The information below is by no means medical advice, or advice at all for that matter.

I’m not a medical professional, and I’m not for a second claiming that you should be doing any of the following or that you should buy any of the products mentioned. 

Stay safe people! 

With the disclaimer covered, let’s get into it. 

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1. Breathing Habits & Breathwork Exercises

There are two parts to this section:

First we have nasal only breathing throughout the day and night. 

I shared a post on Instagram that explains the reasoning behind this:

View this post on Instagram

Calm, nasal breathing. In and out through the nose. . Here’s a repost from @powerspeedendurance with some interesting thoughts to consider: . “While you can breathe through your mouth, doing so bypasses the innate immune system benefits of nasal breathing. Your body has some pretty cool design features that go towards protecting you from viruses.⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ 1️⃣ Mucus and Cilia in the nasal cavities. These help trap inhaled pathogens and help to kill those germs or isolate them.⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ 2️⃣ Nitric Oxide produced in your nasal cavities and paranasal sinuses is a potent antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial agent.⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ 3️⃣ Whenever you inhale bacteria via your nose, exosomes, or tiny fluid-filled sacs, are immediately secreted from cells which directly attack the bacteria and also shuttle protective antimicrobial proteins from the front of the nose to the back along the airway, protecting other cells against the bacteria before it gets too far into the body (https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(18)31351-4/fulltext).⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ Mouth breathing has none of these features. So, as well as washing your hands and avoiding touching your face, try breathing through your nose to help protect yourself from viruses.⁠”⠀ . Some great places to learn more: @_brianmackenzie @hhpfoundation @buteykoclinic .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ .⁠⠀ #powerspeedendurance #artofbreath #mouthwideshut #breathwork #nasal #immunesystem #breathe #virus #shifthappens #hygiene #shutyourmouth #health #CO2Tolerance #youarenature #heromove #breathing #staystrong

A post shared by Luke Jones / HERO Movement (@lukejonesmove) on

To summarise:

Due to the presence of mucous and cilia in the nasal cavity, and an increase in nitric oxide production, breathing through the nose may offer an extra line of defence against airborne pathogens. 

To encourage this, I’ve been taping my mouth shut in the night for a while now, as well as trying to be mindful of keeping it nasal throughout the day (particularly if I have to pop out to get food).

 

On top of nasal only breathing, we have specific breathwork drills:

I’ve primarily been using two apps for various breathwork drills: 

Shift State

The less intense drills on Shift State are perfect for down-regulation and managing some of the stress and anxiety that’s inevitably present in the current climate.

Wim Hof Inner Fire

The more intense Wim Hof style breathwork is of particular interest when it comes to potentially supporting immune function. More on this below…

Here’s Scott Carney, author of the book “What Doesn’t Kill You”, explaining some of the potential benefits of practicing the Wim Hof Method right now:

Scott mentions in the video a study done on the Wim Hof Method:

The subjects were trained for 10 days, practicing the breathing drill, meditation, and cold exposure. They were then injected with a bacterial endotoxin that normally causes flu-like symptoms. 

Even after this short period of training, the Wim Hof group showed lower flu-like symptoms compared to the control group, along with a more rapid increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines, and lower levels of proinflammatory mediators.

Researchers concluded that the subject were able to voluntarily influence their sympathetic nervous system and immune system.

Now, this isn’t to say we’d see the same results with the COVID-19, which is viral as opposed to bacterial. But it’s interesting food for thought.  

Talking of food…

 

2. Food & Supplements

There are many factors that can influence the strength of our immune system, nutrition potentially being one of them. Times like these reinforce the need for the basics – consuming a wide range of whole foods, staying hydrated, and eating slowly and mindfully whenever possible. 

To take things a little further, I’ve recently started to stay on top of a few key foods and supplements, including: 

  • Elderberry & Echinacea. Both have some pretty good evidence for supporting the immune system. Here’s a short article that talks about both. We managed to find some tea in a health food shop over here, along with an elderberry syrup you can add to water. 
  • Vitamin C. A 2017 review study stated that Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system”. We’ve managed to get hold of spinach, red peppers, frozen berries and mandarin juice – all pretty rich in Vitamin C. I’ve also been taking around 900mg in supplement form, spaced throughout the day. 
  • Vitamin D. The links between Vitamin D status and immune function are fairly well established. I’ve not had access to a supplement out here in Tenerife, but have been getting as much safe sun exposure as possible when the sun hits the balcony in the afternoon.
  • Probiotics. Numerous studies have shown links between our gut flora, probiotic consumption and our immune system. On top of tasty fermented foods like tamari and dark chocolate, I’ve been taking a few billion CFU of a multi-strain probiotic daily. 

3. Sleep & Rest

Here’s a short exerpt from a Mayo Clinic article on sleep and the immune system:

“Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.”

With that in mind, I’ve been trying to make sure I get enough good quality shut eye every night, and taking naps if I don’t sleep too well. 

A few things that have worked well for me historically:

  • Leaving at least a few hours between my last meal and bedtime.
  • Winding down with relaxing activities like reading and doing puzzles. 
  • Trying reduce light exposure as much as possible (luckily our room is pretty dark already).
  • Earplugs to block any sound.
  • Taping my mouth with masking tape to encourage nasal breathing. 

4. Movement

The claim that exercise weakens the immune system seems to be a myth, and in fact, getting a workout in may even offer a protective effect – both in the short and long-term. 

That being said, studies also show that illness risk is increased in athletes during periods of intensified training and competition.

Being mindful of getting the balance, I’ve stripped back my training load for the time being, reducing overall volume and focussing on more restorative practices at home. 

Right now that looks like:

  • 2-3 home strength sessions a week. I’ve adapted my current routine, which is a combination of weighted exercises (split squats + Romanian deadlifts), bodyweight progressions (rows, pullups, pushups and pike pushups) and skill-work (handstands and pancake drills). I’ll share some other resources next week if that’s something people would like.  
  • Skipping / jump rope every other day. Working with the rope is a great way to get some light Zone 2 training, improving cardiovascular fitness without placing huge demands on the body. It’s also a great way to encourage lymph flow, which is potentially linked with enhanced immune function
  • Daily mobility / yoga. These days I get most of my mobility and flexibility work done through strength training by using full range of motion exercises. That being said, I’ve still been doing some quick mobility flows, yoga poses and posture exercises throughout the day just to stay sane and keep the body moving. 

5. Cold Exposure

This is one that hasn’t been as accessible out here in Tenerife as the tap water doesn’t seem to get that cold, but it’s definitely something I’m looking to incorporate again when we make it back to the UK.

I mentioned Wim Hof in the breathwork section earlier. As you may already know, another big part of his method is the use of cold exposure – ice baths, lake/sea swims and cold showers.

While there are some studies that suggest regular cold immersion can activate the immune system and potentially reduce the likelihood of people calling in sick for work, the evidence for strengthening the immune system isn’t that solid.  

On a personal level, I know that I’ve felt more resilient against catching the common cold when I’ve gone through periods of regular cold exposure. 

However, if I’m already sick or in a flare up, I’ve found the extra stress from the cold has the opposite effect, often making me worse off. 

So it’s definitely one to be careful with!

 

Take care, stay safe and keep breathing.

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Luke Jones

Luke Jones

Luke Jones is a Movement Coach, Wellness Enthusiast, Online Content Creator, and Founder of HERO Movement. Through articles, videos, courses, and online coaching, his big goal is to help people discover freedom of movement and create lives filled with well-being & adventure.

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