Your immune system is your main line of defence against intruders like bacteria and viruses. We all know when we are feeling unusually tired or down that we are more vulnerable to catching colds and the flu. It is at these times our immune system is not running at its best.
We are genetically and immunologically unique. But that is by design because if we were all immunologically identical, we would react to the same infection in the same way and our species would die out. Even members of the same family react differently to different immune system threats. But while some people do claim never to get cold and flu-like infections and may think that they will avoid coronavirus too, the reality is we are just more susceptible to some types of infection and more resilient to others. There’s no hierarchy to this and none of us is invincible to everything.
However there are steps we can take to maintain a healthy immune system.
Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially those high in vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a key role in immunity and a deficiency can lead to a higher susceptibility to a cold or virus. When we are ill our immune cells need almost double the amount of vitamin C they normally do to fight an infection, so consuming more of it could be beneficial in marginally reducing the length of time you are suffering by around 8 per cent in adults and 14 per cent in children.
Our body carries out repairs and boosts the immune system while we sleep. This is why it is so important that we don’t skimp on our sleep. Make sure you prioritise sleep over other things like watching the television or using the internet.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to prime and even rejuvenate immunity. A recent British study of male and female long-term cyclists aged 55 to 79 found that, when compared with those of twenty-something sedentary people, the older cyclists’ immune systems were far superior. Keeping your muscles active releases high levels of a specific chemical called interleukin 7 (IL-7) into the blood and that helps to prevent shrinking of a gland of great importance to immunity. The thymus gland, situated in front of the heart and behind the sternum, is responsible for producing new T cells, the master controllers of the immune system.It starts diminishing in size from our twenties, a process called thymus involution, but regular exercise halts this, keeping the thymus gland in healthy shape.
The link between stress and the immune system is well documented. Reducing stress, especially in times like these where we feel uncertain about what is happening, is very important. We can help reduce stress by a combination of physical and mental exercises. All physical activity from cycling to gardening will help alleviate stress. Take time out to follow an activity which helps to switch off our constantly chattering mind.
Yoga: the perfect combination
The perfect combination of physical and mental activity is yoga. Doing even 15 minutes of yoga with attention on the breath keeps the body fit and helps calm the mind. And for those who are unable to leave their homes, yoga can be practiced in a space not much bigger than your body and requires little equipment other than a mat to practice on.
Creating a Safe Place
Creating a safe place is more than making sure your physical space is free from obstacles; it is about feeling safe in yourself. Turn your safe space into your sacred space. If possible reduce noise, or use soft music as a background. Burn incense (preferably before you practice). Keep the space away from other activities and people. When you step into your sacred space, leave the outside world behind, and focus only on yourself. You can start your practice sitting and chanting OM a few times. Remarkable as it seems, the vibrations created sooth the nervous system, increase lung function, and centre the mind.
Make sure you set time aside for this each day so it becomes part of your routine.