5 Tips to Lower Your Risk of Getting COVID
A question we get every day in the Sears medical practice is “Doctor, what can I do to lessen my family’s chance of getting COVID?” Nearly every newscast promotes the scary term “vulnerable,” meaning those at the highest risk of getting the sickest from COVID. The COVID crisis has taught us this point: the most vulnerable persons are those with a weakened immune system. Age alone does not equate to being “vulnerable,” it’s how we age as we teach in our Primetime health course at the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute. Besides following the guidelines in your local county, here is my top tip on how not to be so “vulnerable” and greatly lower your risk of getting COVID:
Smarten Your Immune System
So much news out there is focused on how to keep the COVID virus from getting into your body, and I celebrate our government’s rapid response in this matter. Yet, besides keeping the virus out of your body an equally smart, and sometimes smarter, preventive measure is to empower and equip your own immune system so that if the virus does get in you can successfully fight it off.
Formulating your personal COVID-prevention plan begins with training your inside army – your immune system – to fight better for you. I would love to see more placards and t-shirts displaying: “I’m making my immune system smarter!” Simply put, you hold the five keys to making your immune system work better for you in the palm of your hand:
1. Eat Smart
What you eat greatly influences how well your immune system army fights. That makes sense! The better you feed and equip your soldiers, the better they fight for you. Eating immune-smartening foods is particularly important for equipping your natural killer cells (NK cells), the rapid-responders of your immune system. What “diet” makes you the most vulnerable to getting COVID? It’s the SAD (Standard American Diet). You’ll notice I use the term “smarter” immune system because you want your inside army to go on search-and-destroy missions for the COVID virus, glom onto it, and literally shoot biochemical bullets into the virus and blow it up before it has a chance to grow. Yet, you want your immune system to fight only the foreign germs and “terrorists” that come in and not over-fight and attack your normal cells and tissues, which is the root cause of the epidemic of autoimmune diseases. Therefore, a diet for a smarter immune system enjoys these four top features:
- Provides the best nutrients your immune system needs.
- Rich in antioxidants to protect against the immune system being weakened.
- Low in sugar spikes: your immune-system fighters inside are weakened by fake foods, those that are high in added sweeteners but low in healthy fats, fiber, and protein to blunt the spikes.
- Improves blood flow.
A vital part of your immune system is your microbiome, your community of healthy bacteria that line your gut and play a major part in smartening your immune system. Think of your microbiome, or gut-brain, as your immune-system garden inside. The better you feed and fertilize your garden, the better your immune system plants will grow. Better food grows better plants, which grows a healthier immune-system garden. Find out here which are the best foods for your immune system.
Drink smart! Despite the overdose of COVID-containing information, we hear very little about how overdrinking will weaken your immune system. It’s concerning that alcohol sales seem to be increasing during the COVID crisis. There are smart ways to enjoy alcohol without it depressing your immune system. (Read a step-by-step science-based plan for drinking smart in our reference, The Healthy Brain Book)
2. Move Smart
Movement mobilizes your immune system. And, science supports that movers enjoy better immune systems than do sitters. Move more, sit less, and your immune system will “like!” In our two references at the end of this article, you can delve deeper into Nobel Prize-winning research on how movement not only increases the number of immune-system fighters you have inside but also trains them to fight better for you. This is why our top trademark teaching of the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute is: teaching your body to make your own medicines (MYOM).
We hear so much on the news about magical medicines to treat the COVID crisis and, yes, that is important, but let’s add ways to make your own internal medicines to prevent getting COVID. Be a medicine-maker to help prevent you from having to be a medicine-taker. You can do that!
Go outside and play! Yes, Dr. Mom was right with her sage advice for handling boredom and anxiety. While moving your body anywhere mobilizes your immune system, exercise outdoors as much as you can while at the same time following the social-distancing advice in your local county. I love the phrase that neuroscience researchers use: “Movement outdoors is like exercise squared,” meaning your immune-system soldiers train and fight smarter when you train them in nature. Here’s some more “wow!” science to motivate you to move: researchers at Nippon University in Japan revealed that when a person exercises outdoors in nature, especially in a forest, they increase the size of their NK cell army inside. Perhaps that’s why movement outside is known as the best “recreation.” Re-create a healthier immune system.
Good science and common sense often go together. Movement outdoors is safer and more immune-system friendly than staying indoors. Where would a virus most likely find the best environment to grow and multiply? Stale air, lack of natural sunlight, and in a small, crowded space – indoors.
Movement naturally keeps you away from a potential “spreader,” also known as a “virus carrier.” (You’re always moving away from any droplets instead of sitting nearby, say at the same table, indoors where the COVID-infected droplets have a greater chance of landing on you.) Viruses thrive in cool, stale areas with less sunshine. While fresh air usually blows the droplets somewhere else. Also, sunshine, full of vitamin D, is a nutrient that your immune system needs. Your stress levels are also much lower when you go outside and move instead of sit inside and stew; which brings us to the next tip to smarten your immune system:
3. Think Smart
During this COVID crisis, anxiety and depression have, not surprisingly, gone from already high levels to higher levels mainly because of financial and social worries about what the “new normal” will be. Infections are more likely to follow a stressful event. This has been well studied. People who had a big stressor in their life and were unable to handle it are more likely to get a virus or bacterial infection within a couple of weeks following the unresolved stress. At no time in my 54 years in medical practice have I seen a period like this that we need to carry around a bigger toolbox of stress-management techniques. Calmness strengthens your immune system, worry weakens it. (See references below on how you can use my favorite science-based stressbusters in your daily life.)
Meditate more, agitate less. Enjoy frequent mini-meditations throughout the day to unclutter your mind, which equips your immune system to make smart decisions to fight better for you. In our medical practice, we demonstrate meditation techniques beginning with seven-year-olds and emphasize it even more to teenagers and adults. Meditation is medicine for your mind – and your immune system. (See meditation techniques in the references below).
4. Sleep Smart
Your body sleeps at night, but your immune system doesn’t. Think of sleep as a time of detox for your immune system. Imagine during sleep your troops are resting, but their immune systems are strengthening. Sleep is like a detox army inside getting rid of the junk that accumulated during the day that could weaken the immune system. (See references below for sleep-well tips).
5. Serve Smart
Throughout this COVID crisis. I have learned to do media distancing, saying bye-bye to bad news and hello to good news. It’s very uplifting to see the heroes fight to help the vulnerable, like in the “United” States of America. By an internal feel-good mechanism, I call “the helper’s high,” you feel good by doing good – and so does your immune system. Whatever your present circumstances, imagine: “What can I do for my family and friends, especially those who truly are ‘vulnerable,’ to help strengthen their immune system and lower their chances of being vulnerable?”
The Sears family – and our books in the Sears Parenting Library and Sears Health Library – wish you good health!
–Dr. Bill Sears
- The Healthy Brain Book: An All-Ages Guide to a Calmer, Happier, Sharper You, William Sears, M.D., Vincent M. Fortanasce, M.D., Hayden Sears, M.A., Benbella Books, 2020.
- The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan: Transform Your Mind and Body, Five Changes in Five Weeks, William Sears, M.D., Erin Sears Basile, Benbella Books, 2017.
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 40 years. He received his medical training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the world’s largest children’s hospital, where he was associate ward chief of the newborn intensive care unit before serving as the chief of pediatrics at Toronto Western Hospital, a teaching hospital of the University of Toronto. He has served as a professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California School of Medicine, and University of California: Irvine. As a father of 8 children, he coached Little League sports for 20 years, and together with his wife Martha has written more than 40 best-selling books and countless articles on nutrition, parenting, and healthy aging. He serves as a health consultant for magazines, TV, radio and other media, and his AskDrSears.com website is one of the most popular health and parenting sites. Dr. Sears has appeared on over 100 television programs, including 20/20, Good Morning America, Oprah, Today, The View, and Dr. Phil, and was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine in May 2012. He is noted for his science-made-simple-and-fun approach to family health.