It’s safe to say that 2020 is the year of immunity. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: We’ve all experienced the sobering reality that our immune health matters — not in 2 years or 20 years, but today.
“It’s more important now than ever before to think proactively about your health, whether that be for immune support or emotional wellness,” says Darren Rude, cofounder of supplement company Youtheory®.
Dr. Heather Moday, integrative immunologist and founder of the Moday Center, agrees: “2020 has been a wakeup call for a lot of people,” she says. “A lot of people have begun to think about their lifestyle and habits,” especially those who have a preexisting condition, like heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, which put you at greater risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
In the past year, we’ve looked to doctors offices, social media, and Google to find out how to boost immunity. We’ve also added vitamins and supplements to our daily regimen. “Over the past 6 months, we have seen a huge surge in immune support products such as Youtheory® Immune+ Daily Wellness,” says Rude.
And, what did we learn from all this searching and scrolling and supplementing? Well, the bad news is also the good news: There is no magic solution, no panacea, no one thing that will guarantee that we won’t get sick, but there are a handful of simple things we can do to strengthen our immune system. This year, we reached for the immune-boosters that are cheap, easy, and time-tested. They may not be revolutionary, but they do work.
Here are 5 things we learned about immunity in 2020.
1. Stress and immunity are connected.
“If you are chronically stressed or experiencing adrenal exhaustion, you have high cortisol,” explains Dr. Bindita Gandhi, integrative and functional medicine doctor and founder of Revive Atlanta MD. And that takes a toll on your immune system. “If you’re getting sick multiple times during cold and flu season, it’s likely that your stress levels are to blame,” she says.
2. Exercise is key.
Fact: A sedentary lifestyle contributes to nearly all preexisting conditions that put us at risk for a more severe case of COVID-19. Said another way, exercise is a crucial factor in maintaining a healthy immune system.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been an easy problem to solve during quarantine times. As we move into winter, Dr. Moday recommends finding a way to move your body every day, whether it be a brisk walk outside, an indoor dance party, or a HIIT workout. It doesn’t really matter what you do so long as you’re active.
3. Vitamin D takes center stage.
“Functional medicine doctors like me talk about vitamin D until we’re blue in the face,” says Dr. Moday, explaining that it’s hugely important in terms of modulating inflammation and immunity. And yet, until this year, its role has been downplayed.
According to Dr. Moday, improving vitamin D levels is relatively easy compared to other nutrients and a huge opportunity to boost health. “When you think about what the barriers are to getting more vitamin D — getting more sun or taking an extremely inexpensive supplement — they are almost zero,” she says. You can also try adding one (or all!) of these three VitaminD rich foods to your diet.
4. Don’t forget about zinc and Vitamin C.
This year, we saw a return to the basics, to the tried and true remedies many of us have been using since we were kids. Of note: zinc and vitamin C. “You can’t go wrong with these,” says Dr. Moday.
The good news is that, like vitamin D, “zinc and vitamin C are cheap and easy to access,” she says. Here are 10 foods with more vitamin C than an orange, plus 5 everyday foods that will help you get your daily dose of zinc.
5. Get some shuteye.
A lot of people have been talking about sleep this year,” says Dr. Moday. That’s because “when we sleep, that’s when our immune system is really active,” she says. And the opposite it true, too: “When you’re sleep-deprived, you get sick.”
You can get melatonin in supplement form, but we also make it on our own when we maintain a healthy, consistent sleep schedule. If you’re having a tough time sleeping, consider your sleep environment (keep it dark, cool, and free of electronic devices), and cut back on caffeine after noon.