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Immunity and Your Health

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Q: Nearly half of all American’s have now received at least one of their vaccination shots and I am one of them. What else can I do to ensure optimal immunity and reduce my chance of getting sick from COVID-19 variants?

A: Great question! We all know to wear our masks, socially distance, wash our hands and get vaccinated; these practices all contribute to lowering exposure to the virus and variants. But I want to see more of what we can do so that if the virus makes it into the inner sanctum of our bodies, we can maximize our ability to identify, engulf and eradicate it from our systems. There are two ways to address this through our eating: avoid immune-lowering foods and increase immune-boosting foods.

Several categories of foods are identified as lowering immunity that we should minimize if not avoid entirely. The biggest one is refined sugar. Studies have shown that excessive sugar causes a reduction in our body’s ability to engulf bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms. The American Heart Association’s highest recommended amount of sugar is 24g for women and 36g for men. When you’re looking at labels, check the added sugars on nutrition labels to determine the grams of refined sugar in a food.

Many of us are turning to alcohol; for women, wine in particular is a tool for dealing with the stress of the pandemic, but there’s a long-established relationship between excessive alcohol and reduced immunity. The recommendation of alcoholic drinks is one per day for women and 2 for men but when we need our immune systems to be optimal, it is better to lower that recommendation.

A third food category to minimize is high-sodium processed foods. Research demonstrates that when the kidneys have to excrete excess sodium, a chain reaction occurs that reduces the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections. COVID-19 is viral but leads to secondary bacterial infections. The maximum recommended amount of sodium per day for the average adult is 2300mg with the current average closer to 3400mg. If you have high blood pressure, 1500mg is the daily recommendation.

These foods potentially minimize immunity, but what optimizes it? Specific types of shellfish are high in zinc, shown to be instrumental in optimizing immune function. Oysters, crab, lobster and mussels are high in zinc. Chicken soup has been demonstrated to have an inflammation-lowering effect, so it’s not just an old wives’ tale to eat chicken soup when you are sick. Add bones into the broth and you increase gelatin and chondroitin, which are linked to gut healing and improved immunity. Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, has been shown to be an immune booster and a potent anti-viral. Citrus fruits, high in vitamin C, have been linked to immunity building because vitamin C enhances the production of white blood cells that are key in fighting infections.

It’s easy to include at least one of these immune-boosting foods to your daily meals. Although we’re getting vaccinated, it is extra protection to ensure we are giving our body foods that optimize immunity in general!

Q: I am still experiencing high stress as we continue to live during the waxing and waning of the exposure of COVID-19. What can I do to manage my stress that can help me avoid the COVID-19 40-lb. weight gain?

A: It is so easy to turn to consumption to manage stress; comfort foods and drinks is accessible and plentiful. But the side effects of using this behavior to manage stress are brutal. Here are two alternatives that are equally accessible and have the extra benefit of helping to expel the virus from our respiratory systems before it has a chance to incubate in the deeper tissue of our respiratory systems. I encourage extended exhale breathing and performing some type of movement that increases your breathing rate.

Many breath techniques help reduce stress and calm the mind, but the one I think is best is extended exhales. The easiest way to perform this technique is to take a short inhale and a long exhale and repeat it four times. Count in your head as you do this to four on your inhale and then eight on your exhale. Adding the counting anchors your mind so you can’t think of things that are stressful because it is occupied with the counting.

When the human body is in a revved-up fight-or-flight state, we take long inhales and shorter exhales because we need to oxygen to be able to physically battle or run from danger. But when we are in a relaxed state and our parasympathetic nervous system is dominating, we have longer exhales. By practicing extended exhales, especially when stressed, we are basically switching on our parasympathetic nervous system, the arm of the nervous system that calms us down.

The second accessible stress management behavior available to us at any moment is doing some sort of movement that involves increasing our resting respiratory rate. At rest, the average adult breathes about 15-20 breaths per minute. If you go for a brisk walk or jump on a Peloton bike or simply get up and dance around your living room, you increase your breathing rate to a higher frequency and you are creating a higher velocity of out breath. Try to sustain this higher respiratory rate for about ten minutes minimum.  

The results are both related to stress relief and COVID-19. First, you are simulating the physical output of fight-or-flight that your body has prepped for when under stress. Our current-day stresses don’t involve a physical output. They get our systems all fired up but with no outlet, so by increasing your respirations through sustained movement that increases your breathing rate, you are giving your body the outlet it has prepped for. When you are done. your body will click into a parasympathetic state and you will be calmer. Secondly, you are performing forced exhales and that is like a high-pressure hose for your lungs and respiratory system. Any viral microorganisms that may be in the process of embedding into your sinus and upper respiratory system are being blown back out. And so, this stress release option serves as a potential COVID-19 prevention tool as well!

Written by: Judy Torel 

Judy Torel, owner of Judy Torel Fitness, is degreed, certified and credentialed in every discipline involved in changing habits that result in body changes. She holds certification through ACSM as an Exercise Specialist, nutrition certification through Precision Nutrition and a master’s degree from UAlbany in counseling psychology with a specialty in addictive behaviors. Judy is also a certified yoga instructor through Yoga Alliance and teaches meditation, breathing and physical yoga practice for stress and anxiety management. Recently, she became a Certified Health Coach through Institute of Integrative Nutrition. As an eight-time Ironman triathlete, she has dedicated her life to sharing the knowledge she has ascertained through her own experiences. Visit or call 518-469-0815 for more information about classes and her studio.