Ingo Zirpins: A healthy immune system from the inside out
A proper immune response to outside stressors depends on our bodies’ ability to resource all internal systems designed to ward off an attack. Given that our culture is currently and ongoingly dealing with a pandemic, it is important for us to bolster and strengthen our systems, so we can preferably divert an infection or mitigate the impact of a disease process on our bodies. While some excitement exists around the potential emergence of a vaccine, I’d like to emphasize that good immunity is not just the existence of some specific antibodies, but a cumulative response of our bodies to shield, protect, prohibit access, capture and expel any pathogen that might want to visit and cause havoc. While vaccines might help our systems to respond to a specific pathogen directly, I encourage to still pay close attention to fostering a strong and healthy overall constitution on a body-chemical (nutrition and hydration), as well as physical (exercise and sleep) and psychological (stress management) level.
Nutrition and Immunity
Our bodies are a wondrous system of chemical interactions. Everything that happens inside is based on cells interacting with each other. For our bodies to be able to function, build themselves, repair themselves, or create a response system towards a disturbance, they need the building blocks to do all that. “You are what you eat,” some say, and there is an utter truth to that statement. Vitamins and minerals are nutrients especially needed to sustain human life.
Mineral or vitamin deficiencies are common in our culture. One major cause of mineral deficiency is simply due to us not getting enough essential minerals from our foods. Soil depletion is considered a side effect of mono-crop agriculture that is designed to feed the masses in quantity, but not quality.
There are many nutrient deficiencies that have a direct impact on the immune system. Yet, there are means to adjust the nutrient balance, whether it is by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, or by substituting with high quality supplements, if you are truly curious about your body-chemical makeup and function, I would recommend consulting with your primary care physician (PCP), who can run appropriate tests to identify deficiencies and refer you to a clinical nutritionist or Naturopathic Doctor. We have some wonderful resources in our community, to which I can personally vouch for.
Hydration and Immunity
Good hydration keeps all your biological systems working well. Blood normally has a 92% water content. Good hydration affords better transportation of nutrients to the organ systems, as well as expelling metabolic byproducts and wastes. Unless you have a medical condition limiting your water intake, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. 20% of that recommended intake tends to be covered by your food intake.
Electrolytes are also essential for hydration. Electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium, that help balance the amount of water and the pH level in your body. Electrolytes also help move nutrients in and wastes out of your cells. I often hear that clients drink a lot of water, but have to run to the bathroom right away. This might indicate an electrolyte imbalance, and your PCP can check and adjust for that.
Exercise and Immunity
While there is, to date, no direct clinical correlation between exercise and improved immune response, it is safe to say that exercise contributes to general good cardiovascular health, and with that, to a healthy immune system. Some studies indicated that prolonged high intensity workouts can cause immunosuppression due to release of cortisol into the bloodstream, yet, those suppression effects appear to be only temporary. Regardless, it has been recommended for exercises to be done in moderate intensities and volumes during the current pandemic. Examples of moderate intensity activities are brisk walking, moderate bike riding, hiking, dancing, water aerobics, and other activities that get you to burn off three to six times as much energy as you would if you sat quietly. A good rhythm would be to do moderate intensity activity for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you choose vigorous intensity activities, it is suggested to limit them to 20 minutes a day, three days a week. Should you need some guidance, check in with your physical therapist or personal trainer.
Sleep and Immunity
I believe everybody knows that sleep is the best cure for most bugs. During an infection, the body must devote most of its energy to the immune system, leaving the remainder of the body with less input, hence the need for sleep. An average healthy adult, on the other hand, should get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, during which the body goes into the production of a protein named cytokine that appears influential in the mounting of an adaptive immune response. Prolonged sleep deprivation, however, has been linked to chronic low grade inflammation and immunodeficiency. So, get some rest.
Stress and Immunity
Last, but not least, I would like to address that chronic stress has been proven to have a significant negative physiological effect on our immune system. There are many stressors in life we might not have any means to avoid or bypass, such as existential, environmental, political or emotional triggers. Yet, there are tools to mediate the physiological effects by addressing your physical well being, seeking counsel from friends or therapists and also by resourcing your religious or spiritual practices. Please take care of your peace of mind and soul, as they are essential in your ability to stay strong and vital.
Move Better, Live Better!
Ingo Zirpins, MSPT, has been a physical therapist for 17 years, specializing in Orthopedic Manual and Sports Medicine. He co-owns Fit for Life Physical Therapy (www.fitforlifencpt.com) in Grass Valley with his partners Corey Vanderwouw, MPT and Mags Matthews, MPT.
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