Support your immune system during COVID-19 pandemic

Sanford Health experts say that over time, diet and exercise will help

The COVID-19 virus can hit people with a weakened immune system harder.

That fact may leave even people with healthy immunity levels wondering: Is there any way to boost your immune system while sheltering in place because of the coronavirus?

The short answer is no, there’s no quick fix to boost your immune system. But you can support it over time.

The role of your diet

Lizzie Kasparek is the sports dietician with Sanford Sports Science Institute at Sanford POWER.

She says eating a balanced diet over time can help strengthen your immune system in the long term.

“Building your immune system is kind of an ongoing process. I think about building a strong immune system by building a good nutritional foundation,” Kasparek said.

“So that’s eating from all the different food groups. Proteins, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods, beans and healthy fats,” she said. “High-nutrient foods are especially going to contain a lot of those antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that give your body those vitamins and minerals that it needs to build a strong immune system.”

Alyssa Burnison, lead dietician at Profile by Sanford, said it’s imperative to keep tabs on your gut health.

“Really getting those vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fiber to support that gut health. Within our gut is where most of our immune system really lives,” Burnison said.

Burnison and Kasparek say eating superfoods can reap substantial benefits to your gut health and immune system. But they warn not to fall victim to a common misconception.

“A lot of different supplements and food groups are touted as immune boosters,” Burnison said. “But again, it’s really important to have that wide variety of diet. Things like vitamin D, calcium, vitamin C and zinc have all been touted as immune boosters.”

“Vegetables are part of your diet, though those are not your entire diet. You still need a good amount of protein foods and healthy fats,” Kasparek said. “Most of those superfoods are fruits and vegetables, but nobody eats like a rabbit, where you’re only eating fruits and veggies. You definitely need those proteins and those healthy fats, too. Building that balanced plate is going to give you everything you need.”

The role of exercise

Along with diet, Kasperak and Burnison say, exercise is key in supporting the immune system.

Strength and conditioning specialist Mitch Webster, with Sanford POWER, says even though gyms are closed to encourage social distancing, there are still opportunities for exercise.

“There’s many different ways you can manipulate body-weight exercises, through different variations and different warmups. Really, there’s a lot of different exercises that you can do to stay active and continue to get better at your particular sport,” Webster said.

Sanford POWER typically works with athletes of all ages, but Webster also has tips for non-athletes to follow.

Webster recommends that they start slow.

“Start by priming your body through different warmups before you jump into any actual exercises,” he said. “Body-weight squats, split squat variations, putting your body into different planes to prime your body. Anything to engage your core. Something like planks, pushups, shoulder taps, things of that nature.”

“You can even do things like walking up and down your stairs. Really, anything just to get that heart rate elevated a bit,” he added.

With gyms closed, Webster said some athletes feel like they’re lacking resources to continue to grow their craft.

But Sanford POWER has initiated a few options.

“We have high school coaches at Sanford POWER who have made different four-week programs that athletes can do. They’re all located on our website,” Webster said. “Three or four days a week mixing up the variations. Upper body push and pull, or body, all that sort of stuff.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Digestive Health, Profile, Sanford Sports, Wellness

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