Health forwards. How to look after yourself during the lockdown

The world around us is changing in a way we never thought would be possible. Things we have always taken for granted are not accessible. Many of us react with anxiety – and it is absolutely ok. It’s ok not to be ok. But it is also important to remember this is temporary and it will pass. Like in the Buddhist concept of impermanence or the Greek idea of panta rhei – everything flows.

What can we do to get through this period of lockdown and come out at the other end feeling good, strong and ready to move on?

I propose that we spend this time really looking after our mind, body and spirit: respect to our bodies, appreciate our mental health, and work on becoming better human beings.

I have put together a nutrition and lifestyle plan for you to help you focus on your health during these challenging times. It is aimed at supporting immunity to promote an adequate and balanced response to a stressor.

Disclaimer: In no way is this a replacement for medical intervention. When you experience any symptoms of disease please always consult your doctor or call NHS line 111.

So where do we begin?

First, we all must follow the general advice to reduce the exposure and spread of the virus. By now we all know the drill – wash your hands, sneeze and cough in a tissue and dispose of it, observe social distancing and stay at home unless it is for exercise or it’s absolutely necessary for you to go out. It is tough but remember – panta rhei.

  • Prioritise your sleep.

I am too, like Matthew Walker, in love with sleep. It has a profound effect on our immune system, mood, hormones, heart health and even digestion. We all need around 8 hours of sleep and ironically the lockdown may be an uninvited solution to an epidemic of sleep deprivation in our society. We should observe our natural sleep-wake rhythm and follow it. Go to sleep when you are tired and establish a healthy bedtime routine, eat the last meal at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Get up when you wake up and look out the window, the first thing is to expose your eyes to the natural light. You will soon notice the benefits of resetting your circadian rhythm beyond the absence of dark circles under eyes. I invite you to read my blog article on sleep here.

  • Investigate tools to deal with chronic stress. 

There are two types of stress – eustress and distress. The former may be considered ‘good stress’ – it is a normal physiological response to external stimuli (sunlight, heat or cold, exercise, toxins in food) and is considered our survival mechanism. Distress is a chronic pathological state when we are stuck in stress mode and unable to return to balance. It adversely affects our immunity, energy levels, metabolism, digestion, reproduction, mental health just to name a few.

Let us spend the lockdown time exploring ways to deal with this chronic state of imbalance. These will be different for all of us.

*Meditation – apps Calm, Headspace, Let’s Meditate or many guided meditations available on YouTube. Start with 5 minutes in the morning and 5 in the evening and build up. Really it is all it takes to start noticing the difference.

*Or perhaps you are more likely to benefit from breathing exercises – diaphragmatic breathing, 4-7-8, square breathing?

*Perhaps listening to binaural beats appeals to you?

*How about a warm bath with Epsom Salts? The latest research shows it may reduce cardiovascular risk too!

Explore the different options and find one that resonates with you and brings you calm. When you do, practice it regularly for the long term effect.

  • Tap into your creative mode and make the most of the limited space and get active! Try:

– sofa workout,

– living room dance classes,

– kitchen disco,

– computer desk stretch,

– YouTube yoga (tree pose needs no space at all and may be a great Netflix companion!),

– march while you’re watching TV, talking on the phone, doing a chore or talking to the kids,

– build muscles with these precious cans of beans – they work perfectly well as dumbbells!

“This is no snake oil. Whatever your age, there’s strong scientific evidence that being physically active can help you lead a healthier and happier life.” (NHS)

  • And last (by no means least!) for the delicious part – the FOOD.

Foods that heal

Eat The Rainbow

Do you know that the colours of the fruit and vegetables actually mean something? Each colour is a different set of plant nutrients with different effects on our bodies. To maintain optimal health we need to consume all of them regularly. They protect against cancer and heart disease, have powerful antioxidant properties and delay cellular ageing. Try at least a portion of each of these colours every day: green, red, orange and yellow, blue and purple, white and brown. Download Dr. Chatterjee’s Rainbow Chart and put on your fridge for kids to play the colour game too.

– “Eating the rainbow” also provides you with a set of vitamins and minerals to support your immunity, energy production, mood and pretty much every process in the body. It is also a wealth of fibre for the optimal digestion (careful if you have a condition that requires low fibre diet) and feeding those trillions of microbes that your gut is a host to. But don’t panic – they are your good friends! How they benefit our health is a topic for a separate article, but just acknowledge their invaluable role in our immunity. Our gut is the centre of our immune system. Imbalances in the gut microbiota may dysregulate our immune response. Let’s feed our gut bacteria well and allow them to work for our benefit.

– Foods containing the crucial nutrients for the functioning of the immune system:

  • Vitamin C – citrus fruit, berries, kiwi, broccoli, red peppers, parsley, kale
  • Zinc – legumes, liver, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts, lentils, wholegrains
  • Selenium – Brazil nuts from Brazil (!), eat 3-4 nuts per day
  • Vitamin D – oily fish, shiitake mushrooms, 20 minutes of sun exposure
  • Carotenes (vitamin A precursors) – carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach
  • Spices – consume garlic liberally, try ginger and lemon tea, use turmeric in your cooking or try a turmeric latte
  • Mushrooms – they contain beta-glucans shown to regulate the immune system
  • Probiotics – foods containing live bacteria (careful if you are sensitive to histamine) that support our ‘gut immunity’: sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir, olives, kombucha
  • Omega 3 fatty acids – anti-inflammatory compounds found in SMASH FISH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring), chia seeds, flaxseeds and flax oil, walnuts, pecans, green leafy vegetables

Stay hydrated – water, herbal teas, broths and even soups count! The obvious benefit of hydration is that it is needed for all the systems (including immune) to function optimally. Also, regular sipping of fluids may help to wash any lingering pathogens in the throat down into the digestive tract for the stomach acid to kill off, providing additional protection for our immune system. Try not to drink when you are eating to avoid diluting the digestive juices.

Foods that hinder healing

Refined sugar is highly inflammatory to our body and suppresses the immune system. So look through your cupboards and get rid of all those hidden sweets, chocolate bars, cookies, doughnuts. Start a sugar detox and re-train your taste-buds to appreciate the natural sweetness of real foods. Balance your three main meals with good quality proteins, good fats and fibre to keep you fuller for longer and reduce sugar cravings between the meals.

Highly processed foods contain high levels of sugar, trans-fats, preservatives, harmful chemicals that affect your cellular health, gut microbiome and immune system.

  • Learn to cook.
  • Eat REAL food.
  • Batch cook and freeze – this will put your mind at rest that you will have food available.

Alcohol – not only overwhelms the liver reducing your detoxification capacity but also dramatically impairs the immune system and your good gut bacteria. Limit consumption to a small glass of red wine now and then, and best if you can eliminate it. At least now when your immune health is so precious.

Health forwards

I have one very vivid memory from my childhood. I was playing outside when suddenly my mum appeared from nowhere, grabbed my arm and dragged me inside the flat. She checked me all over and there was a terror in her eyes when she found a few scratches on my knees. She grabbed a bottle with liquid iodine and slapped the contents all over me. It was 28th April 1986 and the news of the Chernobyl disaster just reached Poland.

What memories are going to remain in our childrens’ minds from the Coronavirus period? Singing Happy Birthday when washing the hands even though it’s nobody’s birthday today? Parents being at home, not rushing, not having to go anywhere, laughing and playing together as if it’s a weekend every day? Hopefully, there will only be good memories of feelings of warmth, togetherness, joy and hope. This is what I wish for all of you. Look after yourselves.

In good health,

Gosia

Picture: People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

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