By Michele Chevalley Hedge
During a time when people are waitlisted for a vaccination, stocking up on hand sanitizer and face masks to improve their external defences against viruses and other illnesses, it is also important to consider ways to reinforce our internal natural immunity.
Your immune system relies on your lifestyle. Stress management, good sleep, healthy nutrition, and regular physical activity are all part of this puzzle.
Stress and Immunity
Stress can increase an individual’s susceptibility to illness after exposure to infectious microbes. Stress can disrupt your antibody mediated and cellular responses. This stress can be real stresses (financial, death, losing a job) or simply your perceived stresses from negative self-talk. Studies show that people with high perceived stress, emotional reactivity, and negative emotions are at greater risk of acute respiratory infections. (1)
Stress happens every day to everyone. We need to learn to manage it because we cannot prevent it. Mindfulness meditation and a gratitude practice cost nothing and can reduce your cortisol and change your mindset in minutes.
Mindfulness doesn’t require sitting on a rock and staring at the moon. It can be as simple as sitting and breathing slowly without distractions for 15 minutes. The research in this area of wellbeing is only just beginning, but a recent study showed that a two-month mindfulness course produced a reduction in acute respiratory illness and benefits on the immune system. (2)
The practice of gratitude seems ‘airy -fairy’ to many people, but research also suggests links to positive emotions, happiness and hope. This shifts us away from stress and negativity – a key predator in poor sleep and lower immunity. (3)
Sleep and Immune Function
Sleep should be at the top of your wellbeing priorities. A human’s mental and physical health begins to falter after just 24 hours of sleep deprivation and can kill you within 11 days. Poor sleep can impact the immune system by decreasing our natural killer cells – our army against viruses.
Healthy meals, bedtime routine, blue light exposure and more play a factor in promoting deep, quality sleep. Include nutrition that has amino acids such as tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, our happy hormone, and melatonin, our sleep hormone. Boom!
There is important research emerging on the relationship of sleep and vaccinations. Growing evidence suggests that sleep plays an important role in immunological memory, including antibody responses to vaccination. Shorter sleep durations, averaged over the collection period, was associated with fewer antibodies from the vaccination. These studies have been conducted with the influenza vaccination and will spark further research into the COVID vaccination and antibodies. (3)
Real Food, Exercise, and Immune Function
Eating nutritious food often leads to exercising more and vice versa. The benefits are profound, both mentally and physically. One of the outcomes is often maintaining a healthy body weight. Higher body weight and obesity have been associated with an increased risk of respiratory infections. Is this a perfect storm when we have an obesity pandemic already occurring? (4)
Whilst exercising during a time of isolation and restrictions may not ideal, it is still essential. Research suggests that up to 40% of ‘normal weight’ adults have excess body fat. It is that fat that is associated with inflammation, CVD, metabolic abnormalities, and poor immune systems.
You do not need to run 5K or spin for an hour. Even moderate exercise can improve your innate immunity and provide protection against viral infections. (5) Internet videos and exercise apps have proven to be an isolator’s best friend for movement over the last 12 months.
Nutrition and what we eat will become paramount in prevention of all diseases in the future. This decade there will be a spotlight on nutritional research and prevention of disease in a new proactive world. In this odd time when there are so many things we cannot control – but we can control how we feel ourselves. Eating a whole food diet, full of antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and naturally low in added sugar, will support a robust immune system. A well-rounded diet, with minimal packaged and processed foods will provide key immune nutrients such as Vitamin D, Vitamin C, zinc and iron.
1 Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, Rakel D, Brown R, Zgierska AE, Barlow S, Hayer S, Barnet JH, Torres ER, Coe CL. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection (MEPARI-2): A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018 Jun 22;13(6):e0197778. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197778. PMID: 29933369; PMCID: PMC6014660.
2 Barrett B, Hayney MS, Muller D, Rakel D, Brown R, Zgierska AE, Barlow S, Hayer S, Barnet JH, Torres ER, Coe CL. Meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection (MEPARI-2): A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018 Jun 22;13(6):e0197778. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197778. PMID: 29933369; PMCID: PMC6014660.
3 Bansal P, Bingemann TA, Greenhawt M, et al. Clinician Wellness During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Extraordinary Times and Unusual Challenges for the Allergist/Immunologist. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2020;8(6):1781-1790.e3. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2020.04.001
4 Moser JS, Galindo-Fraga A, Ortiz-Hernandez AA, Gu W, Hunsberger S, Galan-Herrera JF, et al. Underweight, overweight, and obesity as independent risk factors for hospitalization in adults and children from influenza and other respiratory viruses. Influenza Other Respir Viruses. (2019) 13:3–9. doi: 10.1111/irv.12618
5 Ranasinghe C, Ozemek C, Arena R. Exercise and well-being during COVID 19 – time to boost your immunity. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2020 Dec;18(12):1195-1200. doi: 10.1080/14787210.2020.1794818. Epub 2020 Jul 23. PMID: 32662717.
About the author: Michele Chevalley Hedge
Michele Chevalley Hedge is a qualified nutritionist, founder of A Healthy View and author of Eat, Drink and Still Shrink… a joyful guide for busy people.
Michele was previously a marketing manager so she truly understands the needs of time-poor corporate executives who, family or not, want health but not hassle. She is often introduced as “the modern day nutritionist – the one who likes a bit of wine and coffee.”
Michele’s clinical practice and experience allow her to share stories of patients and their nutritional transformation which give the audience goose bumps – the kinds of stories that can only be heard if you are at the coal face with clients. Recognising her sensible approach to nutrition, four years ago, Wiley Publishing commissioned Michele to write Beating Sugar Addictions for Dummies. Michele then went onto to write The Healthy Hormone Diet- a 28 day plan for rebalancing your weight, energy, and sleep. And in 2019 Michele released a number one best seller, Eat, Drink & Still Shrink– a busy person’s joyful guide for living.
Michele works with many international corporations and schools- Westpac, CBA, ANZ, HSBC, and corporations like, Apple, Dropbox, Dexus, News.com, Financial Planning Association, AMP, Accenture, Dexus, Woolworths, Bankers Trust, Business Chicks, JLL,
ACCOR, Westfield, Department of Defence, Australian Police Force, Tourism Portfolio, Heart Research Australia, and more. She is the keynote speaker for the Heads of Schools of Australia and the Positive Schools Conference in Hong Kong and in the USA.
Michele is the Nature Care College Ambassador, Cure Cancer Ambassador and Heart Research Institute Ambassador and consults for 100’s on international corporations. She recently sat alongside the Dalai Lama at a conference where she presented on ‘Vitality, Energy and Serotonin – It’s all in Your Food’. Mental health and nutrition research is her passion and has been nominated as Australia Mental Health Awards Finals three years in a row.
Michele loves to write, so along with her blog and social media, she writes for Body & Soul, Huffington Post, Good Health, The Glow, Prevention, Wellbeing, Clean Eating, Cosmo, Women’s Weekly, MindFood and many more. And when Michele isn’t writing or seeing clients she is often delivering a wellbeing keynote of even chatting away on The Sunrise Show and Today show.
Last year, Michele’s business, A Healthy View, expanded to New York and the US with the addition of her online programs. Passionate, authentic and knowledgeable, Michele has several degrees and a diploma of Nutritional Medicine and is a member of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. Michele is an educator, storyteller, and passionate researcher.