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“Moderation in all things” is said to be the secret to health and happiness. While we’ve long been in favor of going up to and beyond your limits when it comes to training, we can certainly see the value of moderation — or balance — when it comes to lifestyle and nutrition, especially in these difficult times.
Why? Because modern science tells us that robust health, supported by an active lifestyle and varied, high-quality nutrition, supports natural immunity, which is your best defense against disease. In this way, vibrant health is a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle. Good health begets better health.
Unfortunately for many of us, our first instinctive response to an emergency like a pandemic is to veer directly off the high road of moderate balance and into the ditch of extremes. Some of these responses, unfortunately, are thrust upon us. We simply can't go everywhere we would like to go. The things that make us interesting, vital people -- travel, school, restaurants, gyms -- are closed to us.
So we may be tempted to hole up, as it were. We're inside more and the TV is always on. The gym is closed, so our exercise regimen suffers and we become suddenly sedentary. Food, especially fresh nutritious food, may be in shorter supply and require more effort to acquire. So we stock up on snacks and microwaveable junk because it's easier. This is the path to reduced immunity and increased vulnerability to the very contagion we're holing up and hiding from. We are literally inviting it in the front door.
Does it have to be this way? Of course not. What's needed is a little creativity, a little due diligence, and the recognition that good health is its own best reward. Let's take a look at some of the life-affirming measures we can all be taking to shore up our immunity and cope with these uncommon times.
Stay Physically Active
Yes, we know, your gym is closed. Believe it or not, our ancestors didn't have access to 24/7 gyms with towel service and smoothie bars, and they still managed to stay in pretty decent shape. There are so many ways to get your heart rate elevated, build up a sweat, and increase muscle mass in even the most confined spaces.
In the 60s, the fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne had a popular morning TV show in which he led millions of people onto the road of wellness with little more than a floor mat in what looked like a living room. Push-ups, pull-ups, planks, dips, crunches, leg lifts, and yoga all require no equipment at all, and a small investment in resistance bands and kettlebells will expand the possibilities even more. Type "exercise routine indoors" into your web browser and you'll find literally thousands of options.
And then, too, never under-estimate the value of getting outside and going for a walk or a run. In rural areas the great outdoors is pretty great and easily accessible while maintaining social distance. In cities and other urban areas, most parks are open once again as well. Getting outside will do wonders for your peace of mind and the Vitamin D your body synthesizes when exposed to sunlight will help support immunity, bone density, and strength.
Eat Fresh Foods in Variety
Adequate and appropriate nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally and this includes the cells in the immune system. Many micronutrients have very specific roles in the development and maintenance of immune function and in reducing chronic inflammation. Vitamin A and zinc, for instance, help regulate cell division essential to successful proliferative response within the immune system. Vitamin C helps support the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytes) which protect against infection, and plays a role in helping reduce the effects of colds and flu. Numerous minerals and enzymes provide important antioxidant support for cell membranes.
So clearly, sitting in the dark, eating half a family-size bag of snack chips is no way to go through life. Since we're all feeling the absence of one or more hobbies, whether it's travel or racquetball or just going to a concert, here's one you can add to your repertoire: home cooking.
Before the implementation of stay-at-home guidelines, we all lamented that we didn't have time to cook. Now we do. So go back to the internet, look up healthy recipes, and then go shopping. (Bring your mask!) Cooking your own meal, whether its for family or just for yourself, offers a surprising sense of satisfaction and it's a terrific way to incorporate high-quality proteins, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats into your diet.
It's also a highly efficient way of adding natural fiber to your diet (which aids digestion and supports essential gut flora) while decreasing your intake of sugars, salt and saturated fats which are so prevalent in highly processed microwaveable dinners and snack foods. Making your own dinner offers one more benefit: it makes it easier to control portion sizes. Familiarize yourself with proper portion sizes, create a plan day by day, and stick to it.
Finally, stay hydrated and try to avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption doesn't just increase excess body fat and make the next morning disagreeable; it also undermines proper immune function.
Supplement For Optimal Health
One of the problems with a lot of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare foods is that a lot of it just isn't that good for you. We see plenty of people filling their grocery carts with starchy pasta and sugar-laden spaghetti sauces and we think, well, that stuff may be filling, but that's pretty much its only benefit. Don't even get us started on the crackers and frozen French fries and such.
There is one category of easy, long-shelf-life foods that is good for you, however, and that's advanced sports nutrition supplements. Based on the latest scientific research and sourced from the highest-quality ingredients, sports nutrition supplements are created specifically to support high-intensity exercise and ideal physique outcomes such as reduced body fat and increased muscle mass. They're also rich in the micronutrients that boost immune function. Better yet, you can get them delivered directly to your door.
Supplements are not a replacement for quality whole foods sources of nutrition, but they're an ideal means of filling in the nutritional gaps in your dietary regimen that are all but inevitable when food shopping is increasingly time-consuming and the unavailability of some items is a fact of life right now. So let's take a look at some basic supplement staples that should definitely be on your pantry shelves right now.
Protein, Lots of Protein
Even before recent events unfolded, a lot of us simply didn't consume enough protein. If you're making an effort to get in enough daily exercise as we advised, 30% of your nutritional intake should be made up of protein and that should amount to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. That's a lot of protein!
And it's important! Proteins are the basic building blocks of muscle tissue, tendons, organs and skin; they provide or interact with enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters to catalyze countless essential physiological functions. During periods of relative inactivity, protein will help you maintain muscle mass and even decrease fat, as proteins require more thermogenic energy to digest and the muscle mass they're supporting uses fat for fuel.
By all means, make beef, chicken, fish, and eggs the centerpiece of your diet, as these are indispensable sources of quality protein. But know also, that the biological value (BV) of a high-quality whey isolate supplement is actually higher than that of all those sources. Whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate contain more than 90% protein, virtually no lactose or fat, and are superior in generating increased protein synthesis and muscle recovery response. Whey protein is easy to prepare (just add water or milk and shake), and has a lengthy shelf life as well. It's also perfect for mixing in a blender with fresh fruits and vegetables for a particularly nutrient-dense meal.
A Good Wide-Spectrum Vitamin/Mineral Supplement
We've alluded to the numerous micronutrients -- vitamins, minerals, enzymes -- that perform countless functions related to overall health at the cellular level. Potassium supports blood pressure, cardiovascular health, bone strength, and muscle strength, and yet, medical experts have determined that fewer than two percent of people in the U.S. consume enough potassium. Zinc, magnesium, chromium and iron help facilitate key functions of repair, growth, hormonal function, and recovery. Factors like lycopene, quercetin, alpha lipoic acid, boron, calcium and CoQ10, compounds that exist as minute trace elements in foods, support cellular energy and free-radical protective effect. We could go on for thousands of words and just scratch the surface.
And the truth is, even if you're consuming five or six well-balanced meals per day, you're highly unlikely to access every single micronutrient you need to function at optimal levels strictly via diet. And then, too, stress leads to conditional bodily shortfalls of numerous trace elements essential to organ health, tissue support, cognition, recovery, and many other physiological processes. Taking a complete wide-spectrum daily multi that contains individual dosages of nutrients in clinically indicated amounts is one of the best possible things you can do to support optimal health and wellness, especially during a health emergency.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid that, nevertheless, is important for supplying nitrogen and carbon to the cells of the body. It has been linked to gastrointestinal health, and helps to combat muscle breakdown after high-intensity exercise by supporting protein synthesis and nitrogen retention. It also supports muscle hydration, which improves endurance.
But can it help support your immune system? As a matter of fact, it can. Glutamine provides an important energy source for many cell types including those involved in immune function. It serves as a precursor for nucleotide synthesis, essential for rapidly dividing cells such as immune cells. And levels of glutamine can drop precipitously during illness. During infection, it has been shown in clinical studies that the rate of glutamine consumption by immune cells is equivalent or greater than that for glucose. Glutamine has also been shown to play a key role in the functions of a number of immune cells including neutrophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes (1 Cruzat V). For a non-essential amino, glutamine can make a big difference!
Omega-3 Fish Oils
The more we learn about Omega-3 fish oils, the more we come to appreciate their incredible value in terms of health and well-being. The Omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) have been associated in ongoing study with cardiovascular health, joint mobility and even healthy cholesterol levels. They have been shown to help reduce post-workout muscle soreness and, like other healthy fats, can function as a readily utilized energy source.
But what about their effect on immune function? Here, too, the science is encouraging. Research published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology suggests that DHA-rich fish oil may enhance the activity of white blood cells known as B cells, enhancing B cell activation and select antibody production, which in turn supports immune responses associated with pathogen clearance (2 Gurzell). In another study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers concluded that supplementation with high-DHA-fish oil concentrate was associated with enhancement of plasma B cells that stimulate antibody production (3 Guesdon).
We mentioned earlier that Vitamin C has a rich history of reducing and shortening the effects of colds and flu, while supporting white blood cell function. Vitamin C is also necessary for normal glandular function, particularly the adrenal and thyroid, and its powerful antioxidant capacity helps clean up the free radicals and damaging reactive oxygen that flood your system at the cellular level, causing inflammation. Vitamin C has been linked to the strengthening of bones and connective tissue, quicker healing of wounds, and greater elasticity and health of arterial walls. Some studies have shown that taking Vitamin C may modulate stress hormone concentrations, supporting healthy hormonal function.
These are stressful times and getting proper restful sleep can be a challenge. Without it, every crucial bodily function is undermined, including immune function. If you're having trouble sleeping, you should consider a high-quality ZMA supplement. ZMA, a precise ratio of zinc, magnesium and vitamin B-6, has long been associated with quality sleep. Research suggests that magnesium may help support the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for helping your body feel calm and relaxed, while supplementing with zinc has been linked to improved sleep quality in both human and animal studies.
Under normal conditions, our bodies can synthesize sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. But these aren't normal conditions, are they? During times when we're all spending a lot of time inside, vitamin D levels can decline precipitously. It's estimated that during winter months, 40% to 75% of people are Vitamin D deficient. And Vitamin D is not particularly abundant in food sources, though you can acquire some from fish sources or egg yolks.
This is unfortunate because, absent sufficient quantities of Vitamin D, the mitochondria in muscle fibers cannot adequately generate the energy needed for efficient muscle contraction, leading to early onset fatigue. Vitamin D also supports uptake of calcium which supports bone density and lack of it correlates with decreases in testosterone production in men. Most importantly for our discussion here, Vitamin D may also support immune function. Indeed, a study published in The American Journal Of Nutrition provided evidence that a therapeutic dose of vitamin D resulted in a statistically significant (42%) decrease in the incidence of influenza infection (4 Urashima). Another study, published in the journal Science found that Vitamin D may play an important part in the innate antimicrobial response (5 Liu PT). Want to stay healthy? Don't allow yourself to become Vitamin D-ficient!
Now more than ever, supporting your immune system with proper diet and exercise is crucial! Aspire to a well-blanced lifestyle and be safe out there!
1 Cruzat V., Macedo Rogero M., Noel Keane K., Curi R., Newsholme P. Glutamine: Metabolism and Immune Function, Supplementation and Clinical Translation. Nutrients. 2018;10:1654. doi: 10.3390/nu10111564.
2 Eric A. Gurzell, Heather Teague, Mitchel Harris, Jonathan Clinthorne, Saame Raza Shaikh, Jenifer I. Fenton. DHA‐enriched fish oil targets B cell lipid microdomains and enhances ex vivo and in vivo B cell function. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, Vol. 93, Issue 4, April 2013, pp. 463-470.
3 W. Guesdon et. Al. Effects of fish oil concentrates on ex vivo B cell responses of obese subjects upon BCR/TLR stimulation: A pilot study. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, March 2018, Volume 53, pp 72-80.
4 Urashima M, et al. Randomized trial of vitamin D supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in schoolchildren. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(5):1255–60.
5 Liu PT, et al. Toll-like receptor triggering of a vitamin D-mediated human antimicrobial response. Science. 2006;311(5768):1770–3.
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