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Health & Exercise Forum

A Healthy Immune System is a Defense Against Coronavirus (Part 1 of 2)

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Mar 23, 2020
Paul J. Mackarey, PT, DHSc, OCS

The human body is designed to defend against foreign bodies such as germs, bacteria, and viruses, including COVID-19. A healthy immune system may foster a speedier recovery from illness. While you may not be able to improve an otherwise healthy immune system, you can take steps to maintain its health and integrity.

A healthy immune system protects us by creating a barrier that stops invaders or antigens, from entering the body. When an unwelcome invader slips through the barricade, the immune system responds by producing white blood cells and other chemicals and proteins that attack the foreign substances.

10 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Immune System

  1. Don’t Smoke – it is obvious why this tip is critically important 
  2. Eat a Mediterranean Diet – high in fruits and vegetables, fish/seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and minimal amounts of red meat.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight – body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 is healthy. To calculate your BMI:
  4. Drink Plenty of Water … and Drink Alcohol in Moderation 
  5. Get Adequate Sleep – 8 hours is a good goal but if not possible, supplement with a daytime nap
  6. Practice Good Hygiene – Avoid infection by washing hands often and thoroughly. Flossing and brushing your teeth is also important
  7. Prepare Foods Properly - clean meat/fish cutting surfaces and cook food thoroughly
  8. Limit stress and Be Positive - make time to reflect and meditate and, when possible, avoid people who “suck the oxygen out of the room!” YouTube “Progressive Muscle Relaxation” for easy to use relaxation techniques
  9. Be Active – physically and mentally – keep your body and mind moving and when possible spend time outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty of NEPA
  10. Exercise – BUT DO NOT OVER EXERCISE! While exercise is an essential part of a healthy immune system, over exercise can weaken your immune system. In fact, many marathoners report a mild fever and flu-like symptoms after running the 26.2 mile race.  

Prevent Cabin Fever While Confined to Your Home 

Is there a secret to a long and healthy life? Do genes control our destiny? How does lifestyle impact our health? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while genes play an important role, lifestyle plays the biggest role on how healthy you are and how long you live. The food you eat, what you drink, if you smoke, how active you are and how you handle stress are critical factors that determine your longevity. The NIH research has found that smoking, physical inactivity, and poor eating habits are the leading causes of death, in that order.

To maintain a healthy immune system, physical activity is one of the most important factors in improving a lifestyle in a positive way. A minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 days per week can greatly contribute to longevity. Most experts agree that moderation is important. If you overindulge with exercise you will be at greater risk for musculoskeletal injuries. This is especially true for those who are newcomers. The goal is to gradually work into a fitness program and maintain it for life…now, during home confinement; it may be a good time to begin.  

Researchers have found that the benefits of regular physical activity are numerous. Some of the more important benefits are:

  • Loss or Maintained Body Weight
  • Reduces LDL /Raises HDL Cholesterol
  • Improves Circulation and Blood Pressure
  • Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
  • Prevents Bone Loss
  • Reduces Stress/Muscle Tension
  • Lowers Risk of Depression
  • Improves Sleep Pattern
  • Improves Strength and Flexibility
  • Improves Balance/Reduces Risk of Falls
  • Improves/Maintains Immune System
  • Improves Pain Threshold

    Simple suggestions for beginning an exercise program at home

  • Consult with your PCP or a physical therapist to set up a program for your needs
    • Wear comfortable sneakers 
    • Plan to exercise once/day for 30-45 minutes, twice for 15-20 minutes, or three times/day for 10-15 minutes
    • Walk for aerobic fitness – walk around the house and do the steps when you can’t be outdoors 
    • Begin 5-10 minutes and add 1-2 minutes each session
    • Use light dumbbells, cans of food or bottles of water, sandbag weights, and resisted bands
    • Begin with 5-10 repetitions and add 1-2 reps each session
    • Alternate weight training days with walking days 

Sources: WebMD.

     Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.      

     Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

Next Week: Learn some simple home exercises using Resistance Bands.

Read Dr. Mackarey’s "Health & Exercise Forum" every Monday in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine.