We’re all grasping for ways to protect ourselves and our family members from COVID-19. But how do we do this when it seems to be all around us? Right now, the best way to protect yourself is to follow the “stay home” guideline, but even still, some experts predict that approximately 50% of the population or more will contract the infection. So besides staying away from people, what else can we do?
The short answer – optimize your gut health to strengthen your immune system. More than any other system in your body, your gastrointestinal system plays a large role in your immune health. Your gut helps build your immune system from infancy and informs your immune cells what the difference is between friend and foe. In fact, approximately 80% of your immune cells live in your gut. The gut is therefore a primary driver in building a strong immune system. Good gut health often equals strong immunity; poor gut health often equal weak immunity.
So how do we optimize our gut health for a strong immune system? At Gutbliss, we focus on three ways to promote gut health: Dirt, Sweat, Veg. These will give you the biggest bang for your buck and should be practiced daily:
- Dirt: Exposing yourself to the natural world (this includes fresh air, sunlight, and skin to nature contact) is the best way to introduce your body daily to a large array of pathogen-fighting microbes. These microbes will not only colonize your skin, creating a healthy balance that makes it more difficult for pathogenic microbes to take over, but will also make their way into your gut where they can help fight off pathogens from taking hold and multiplying. Increasing gut bacteria diversity is the most proven way to improve your microbial health and in turn, your immune health. Contact with dirt itself has been shown to improve mood, fight off depression and anxiety, and even prevent premature death. Exposure to green spaces has been proven to do the same. There are disinfectant properties in fresh air and immune-boosting benefits of sunlight. Getting outside daily, in nature, as much as you possibly can is so important during this time, not only for your gut and immune health, but also for your mental health. Shoot for 1 hour per day. You can even split this up into 20-minute intervals throughout the day.
- Sweat: As we discussed, exercise plays a big role in boosting immunity and doing so daily will help keep your body strong. Check out our article on exercising for tips on how, when and where to exercise during the COVID-19 outbreak. The most important point to make here is not to get overwhelmed by exercise. Walking out of your front door and going for a 20- to 30-minute walk is adequate in gaining the immune benefits of exercise. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Identify when the best time is to partake in exercise during your day and get out there!
- Veg: This is our most cherished category for boosting immunity here at Gutbliss, and for some, the most challenging. Veg… it means exactly what you think it means… eat your vegetables! Vegetables are incredibly nutrient-rich, potent in virulent-fighting microbes, and the best way to keep your immune system up and running during the pandemic. Dr. Chutkan recommends consuming 6 to 8 servings of vegetables daily (one serving is equivalent to ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw). A green smoothie is an easy way to consume at least half of these recommendations. Another tip is to practice Dr. Chutkan’s 1-2-3 rule: 1 vegetable at breakfast (a cucumber or some tomatoes, for instance), 2 at lunch (2 cups of raw veggies with hummus, for example), and 3 at dinner (maybe a side salad with a cup of roasted vegetables). Also, check out our recipe column for delicious veggie-centric recipes to incorporate into your weekly meal plan. There’s never been a more important time to consume vegetables. Start today! Food is medicine.
When you wake up each morning during this time of social distancing, think to yourself, “how will I get my dirt-sweat-veg in today?” Pro tip – exercising outside is a two-for-one and may make these guidelines more digestible. You could also make it your goal to create a backyard or patio garden. This will not only help you consume more vegetables, but will also help you incorporate more microbe-boosting “dirt” into your daily life. Stay safe and well.