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5 easy ways to boost your immune system

Never in our lifetime has it been more important to keep your immune system healthy, and it’s really not that difficult to do. We asked Dr Michael Mol, founding director of Hello Doctor, to tell us how we can boost our immune systems at home.

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Here are 5 things you can do today to protect yourself against tomorrow.

Keep your hands clean

While washing your hands with water alone may help loosen any dirt on them, it isn’t effective in killing germs. “Especially when it comes to Covid-19,” says Dr Mol. “The Corona virus is surrounded by a bubble of oily lipid molecules, which falls apart when it comes into contact with soap. Without this oily layer, the virus can’t attach itself to your cells.”

If your hands are contaminated with a virus, such as COVID-19, you can infect yourself by touching your face. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds:

  • before and after you prepare or eat food
  • after you sneeze, cough or blow your nose
  • after you use the bathroom
  • after taking out the rubbish
  • if you went out to buy essential goods

Manage your stress

“Instead of staring at the same 4 walls during lockdown, step outside, into your garden or onto your balcony, and absorb the sights and sounds of nature,” advises Dr Mol. “Spending just 20 minutes outdoors can offer immediate stress relieving and mood boosting benefits.”

Although short bursts of stress may actually help strengthen your immune system, long-lasting stress can have a detrimental effect on your health. Manage your stress by:

  • getting enough sleep
  • exercising
  • learning and using relaxation techniques
  • taking time for yourself
  • building a support network of people you can talk to

How sleep protects you

If you’re not getting enough shut-eye, your immune system won’t have the strength it needs to fight off illness.

While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines. Your body needs a certain amount of cytokines for support when you are sick or under stress. Not getting enough sleep can decrease the production of these protective proteins, which could mean your body takes longer to fight an infection. “When you starve your body of sleep, you also rob your brain cells of the ability to function properly, which can cause errors that affect memory and visual perception. Tired brain cells respond slowly, fire more weakly and have longer transmission times,” says Dr Mol. “Not surprisingly, this also affects how you feel!”

How much sleep do you need? The National Sleep Foundation says sleep needs are individual and change as you age. But you can work on newborns needing 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day, infants between 12 to 15 hours, teens 8 to 10 hours, and adults between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night.

Adults who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night are 4 times more likely to develop a cold than people who get 7 or more hours of sleep per night, according to Dr Mol. “Those who get less than 5 hours of sleep a night, are at 4.5 times that risk!”

Make sure you stick to a regular bedtime schedule, stay active during the day, reduce your caffeine or alcohol consumption close to bedtime and put your phone away.

Keep moving

We all know we should be exercising regularly, but it’s time to actually start doing it if you don’t. “Being regularly active has a direct impact on your entire immune system,” affirms Dr Mol. “It increases the number of T-cells and natural killer cells in the immune system, and also delays the age-related decline in immune function.”

Regular exercise also has a powerful anti-inflammatory response in the body, which is why it plays such an important role in preventing chronic illnesses such as heart disease. “For example, for every additional 4 000 steps per day, regardless of intensity (i.e. ambling around the house during lockdown), the risk of dying early from heart disease, cancer or any other cause drops by 50%.”

Although we’re unable to leave our homes, there’s zero excuse to ditch exercising. Take an online class or find a YouTube workout. You can also walk, even in small spaces. Try walking around the house or garden, or simply walk on the spot. Next time you take a call, get up and get moving!  

Supplement with zinc

One essential mineral you should stock up on is zinc. Having even the slightest zinc deficiency can have a negative effect on your immune system.

“Some of the signs of a zinc deficiency include unexplained hair loss, diarrhoea, eye and skin sores and loss of appetite. Weight loss, problems with wound healing, decreased ability to taste food, and lower alertness levels can also occur,” explains Dr Mol.

Adding zinc to your diet can help reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. This mineral is found in many healthy foods, such as red meat, chicken, beans, nuts, eggs and dairy. You can also take a supplement but it’s a good idea to chat to your pharmacist about finding the right one for you.  

Get the first 7 days free on Hello Doctor

Set up a monthly debit order on your Capitec account and apply the promo code, LIVEBETTER to enjoy a free 7-day subscription to Hello Doctor (75% off per month thereafter).

This means you only pay R21.25 per month! Use the convenient Hello Doctor app to request a call or chat on text, and a doctor will call or message you within an hour. Read more here.

Be safe, bank from home

Although we all have to do our part and stay home during lockdown, it doesn’t mean you can’t do your banking. You can use our banking app to pay your accounts, buy airtime or electricity and manage your debit orders.

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