Men’s Health week: Five actions we can take today to support our immune system

The national focus for Men’s Health Week 2020 is “Taking Action on Covid-19” and one way in which we do that is by starting with a good level of health and wellbeing, ensuring that our body is resistant and resilient to the potential effects of COVID and looking after our immune system.

Our immune system is taking action to protect us all the time. It is our primary defence and although it is a highly complex system, most of what we can do to support and maintain it, are things that we have been hearing from public health messages for many years. So maybe now is the time to reflect and remind ourselves of the actions we can take in return to support it.

There are five key areas which have a significant impact on our immune system. As we are all different, one or two of these may be more relevant to you than others, but making any positive change, no matter how small, can have a big impact:

1. Nutrition: the building blocks of health and wellbeing, providing the vital nutrients we need to live. The immune system requires a variety and constant balance of key nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Action: Follow a healthy and balanced diet. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables daily, have a variety of good quality proteins, unsaturated fats and wholegrain carbohydrates. Cut down (even a little will help) on refined and processed foods with high levels of salt, saturated fat and sugar.

2. Physical Activity: Even during the peak of the pandemic in the UK, when we were constantly told by the Chief Medical Officer to stay at home, we were still advised to leave our homes once a day for some activity.

Action: We should all aim for around 30 minutes of exercise per day. Let's make sure we include a variety of activities that we enjoy, whether it is walking, running, or cycling. This makes our body work more efficiently, supports bones and joints and improves our respiratory function which is particularly important during a respiratory pandemic.

3. Stress: Although some stress is beneficial for us, too much is not. The effects of being overly stressed will negatively impact on physical and mental wellbeing. Research shows that individuals who experience prolonged periods of stress are at greater risk of illness and take longer to recover from illness than those who experience lower levels of stress.

Action: To avoid the negative effects of stress it’s important to practice meditation or breathing exercises and to provide an escape from the day to day stresses by having time to yourself.

4. Resilience: This is the ability to cope with situations in a healthy way. Maintaining good levels of resilience reduces stress and supports our immune system, both directly and indirectly.

Action: To foster physical and mental resilience we should work on how we deal with change by focusing on the positives, staying active and creating and maintaining relations with others.

5. Sleep: While we cannot survive without water or air, neither can we survive without sleep. A lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep will negatively impact all areas of our body including our immune system. Sleep essentially gives the body time to repair and to take stock after the activities of the day. Providing insufficient opportunity to do this, means every part of us becomes less effective and less efficient. It’s therefore important to practice good sleep hygiene, with a good bedtime routine.

Action: Create a welcoming environment where you sleep. Escape from the constant electrical input from TV and phones and take the chance to relax your mind before bed. This will help promote healthy sleep and support the immune system.

The immune system, a part of us that we do not often notice or give too much thought to until we need it, is our defence against the world. Taking care of it is so important. The good news is that we only need to make a few small, positive changes to our lifestyle.

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