Coronavirus April Update and Tips
How to Keep Sane and Healthy in Difficult Times – Here’s the Plan!
At LHCC we absolutely acknowledge the reality and the enormity of the situation we face. Our response to it is to go into action so we can all be of best service to our families and our community – even if that action is first sitting in a quiet space and breathing slowly and deeply!
Driven by outside forces, these are historic and worrying times with tremendous uncertainty and unavoidable stress coming from work and home and resulting in the loss of control of many aspects of our lives.
At times like these it may be helpful to remember the wisdom of the Serenity Prayer which calls on us to accept the things that we cannot change and to act on and change the things that we can.
It reminds us of the old saying that the pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Difficulties and traumatic events will happen, but we always have the power to choose how we respond to them.
We have all heard the story of the everyday person who becomes a hero who, when faced with some terrible event, felt a strange state of calm come over them and they were able to do what needed to be done. In an instant they accepted the situation and then acted with a clear head. They didn’t ‘react’ or go into overwhelm or fear, they physically did what they needed to do with a clear head.
The basic plan is therefore:
1. Acceptance – take stock and be grateful for what we have.
2. Take Action – eat well, sleep well and take at least 10,000 steps a day (see below).
Always Remember That We Have Multiple Ways to Improve our Immune System.
We have two worlds, our Inner World of thoughts, or our mind, and the Outer World of our physical life in which we act – eat, sleep, exercise, work, play, recreate and relate to others.
Because our actions follow our thoughts we recommend starting with focus and reducing our personal stress and then to get moving through physical exercise and lifestyle changes.
A recent article taken from The New Scientist (March 2020), passed on to us from one of our longstanding patients (thanks Linn!) called You’re Only as Young as Your Immune System, is the source for many of the following tips on exercise and nutrition.
According to Hans Selye, the ‘father of modern stress’, the typical response to stress has three stages – alarm, resistance and exhaustion. Each stage has its own symptoms:
STAGE 1 – ALARM
- heart rate increases
- Cortisol and Adrenaline release increases energy
- known as the fight-or-flight response
STAGE 2 – RESISTANCE
- poor concentration
- our body adapts to a high alert state over time
STAGE 3 – EXHAUSTION
- decreased stress tolerance
Since it’s not possible to eliminate every stressor, it’s important to find ways to cope with stress. Knowing the signs and stages of stress can help you take appropriate steps to manage your stress level and lower your risk of complications. Which stage, if any, do you feel you are in now?
It’s essential for your body to repair and recover during the resistance stage or our risk for exhaustion and poor health rises. See resistance dropping in the graph below.
Breathing and Meditation
To accept and not fight reality and find some inner peace we recommend taking time for deep-breathing and meditation. A few months ago, in the old world, we held advanced workshops to share and teach these techniques, but as we can’t do that now due to distancing rules we will cover the basics here in this update.
With both meditation and breathing, it is not only the depth and rate of breathing that is important, it is the quality of the breathing and, maybe more-so, the focus we have in our mind.
Meditation is a practice of relaxed and concentrated focus upon a sound, object, visualisation, breathing or even movement in order to increase awareness of the present moment, reduce stress and promote relaxation. As acceptance is our goal then acceptance is our word to focus on.
Follow the practice below starting with Rhythmic Breathing and moving to Acceptance Meditation. Our minds cannot focus on nothing (just try it!) so instead try focussing on one thing. Our mind can focus on one thing and this is very close to focussing on ‘no-thing’.
Try it now! Choose a specific space and time in your day to practice and remember the only word to hold in your mind and focus on is… ‘acceptance’ and feel for any change.
Three breathing techniques – focus only on your breath
- Emergency Breathing for anxiety, panic attacks or when feeling stressed. Double the length of your out-breath, i.e. breathe in 4, hold 2, breathe out 8.
- Full/Complete Breath for lung expansion 4 to 6 times only. Do before you begin rhythmic breathing or quiet time, contemplation or meditation practice.
- Rhythmic Breathing. 4-2-4 beat. An ongoing practice for better health. Combine with meditation sitting or lying down for relaxation or before sleep.
A simple breathing and acceptance meditation practice
- Wear loose clothing and do some gentle exercise or stretch (yoga) your body before you start so your body won’t distract you.
- Sit relaxed in a quiet place, spine straight, keep your shoulders and shoulder blades down and relaxed – palms outward allows rounded shoulders to open
- Breathe through your nose and ‘into your belly’, slowly, deeply, steadily and effortlessly.
- Shift your focus from your surroundings (note sounds, smells, temperature, breezes) to your body (slowly scan through your body from toes up to top of head, relaxing each part as you go – the slower the better) to your word or ‘mantra’, acceptance.
- When your mind wanders and thoughts invade as they will, just accept them… and let them go ‘like passing clouds’ and gently go back to acceptance.
- Allow discomfort and keep breathing, “feel it through”. Focus on letting go. Effortless effort. Soften and allow spaciousness. Practice accepting and allowing.
- 20 to 30 minutes a day is a powerful length of time, but 5-10 minutes is better than none at all!
- Now and then throughout your day close your eyes and take a few breaths and centre yourself on acceptance – this is Mindfulness, or meditation in action.
Ultimately, one of the most important things standing between you and a potentially serious bout of covid-19 is your immune system. Let’s look at two important immune system cells – Neutrophils and T-cells – and how exercise can
Exercise is a drug-free way to rejuvenate your neutrophils. In 2016, one study measured exercise levels and neutrophil migration in 211 older adults. Those doing 10,000 steps per day on average had as many neutrophils as young adults do. Neutrophils aren’t antiviral so they won’t stop you from catching coronavirus or help you beat it, but they will protect you from the critical danger, which is pneumonia.
T-cells are immune system cells produced in the Thymus gland underneath the breastbone. The Thymus reduces in size and function with age and a large part of this decline is due to physical inactivity. In older people, who barely have any thymus left, the immune system is severely diminished, leaving an entire flank of their immune defences horribly exposed.
A 2018 study of 125 amateur cyclists aged between 55 and 79 who had been regularly riding long distances for decades found that they were leaner, fitter and stronger than average, but also had immune systems similar to those of much younger people with youthful Thymus glands.
Proven exercise tips to help immunity
- Increase your step count to over 10,000 per day
- Start riding your bike and ride regularly as far and as long as you can!
Eating for strong immunity – The Immune System Diet
One of the most successful anti-ageing strategies ever discovered is calorie restriction. Being obese suppresses the immune system and science has shown that both reduced intake and intermittent fasting (temporary calorie restriction) are enough to obtain benefits.
There is the 5:2 diet where we reduce calories on two days of the week. The 16:8 diet, which involves not eating for 16 hours and only eating in an 8-hour window. Even done once a week, this is an effective way of slowing ageing and strengthening the immune system.
Preliminary evidence indicates intermittent fasting may also be effective for weight loss, decrease insulin resistance and fasting insulin, and may improve cardiovascular and metabolic health.
What we eat will also matter to our immune system as much as how much we eat. We have more microbes in our bodies than cells and because we need them to stay healthy now is the time to look after our gut flora. There is good evidence that probiotics can enhance the immune system, that poor gut health is a cause of premature ageing and even that a healthy microbiome can reduce your immune age.
Proven diet tips to help immunity
- Reduce the amount you eat overall through portion sizes or intermittent fasting
- Eat a healthy varied diet rich in fibre, plant and fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, tempeh, miso, kombucha, cheese (not too much) sauerkraut and kefir
Other ways to reduce stress
- Eat well – healthy balanced wholefoods diet of fresh fruit and veggies, minimal alcohol and two litres of water a day.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Set a regular pattern and going-to-bed routine – turn off the TV and go to bed earlier and get up earlier to wake your body with exercise.
- Slow down, take regular breaks and make time for hobbies.
- Talk about your problems with a trusted friend, loved one or counsellor.
- Go easy on yourself – keep your sense of humour and remember to laugh.
- Reduce or eliminate triggers – some people find writing down their thoughts and feelings helpful so make a journal, identify your biggest causes of stress and find ways to lessen them.
None of these interventions above are without some effort or sacrifice, but looking after your immune system is vital if you want to live a long and healthy life.
*Covid-19 National Hotline: 1800 020 080 – 24/7, seven days a week, before going to GP or hospital.
** Please contact us via email@example.com if you would like us to send you references for any of the above information.
Stay well and stay strong everyone!
Dr John and Dr Lawson