If you have watched the news in recent weeks or listened to the radio, you have likely heard that cases of the delta variant of COVID-19 are increasing in our community and surrounding areas. In times like these, it is important to take steps toward boosting your immune system.
An immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, and the substances they make that help the body fight infections and other diseases. You were born with part of your immune system and the other part is a product of your environment and lifestyle.
As we age, our immune system becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more sickness. To maintain your health through the pandemic as well as the aging process, it is important to support your immune system through positive lifestyle habits and a nutritious diet. Ways to improve your immune health are:
• Exercise regularly. Around 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day is suggested for adults. This may include walking, swimming, biking, dancing, and golf. Physical activity stimulates our white blood cells. These cells help our body detect and fight off infection. By remaining active, you allow your white blood cells to circulate quickly, thus helping them detect illness before it begins to affect how you feel.
• Get adequate sleep and minimize stress. Studies from the Mayo Clinic show that those who do not get enough sleep are more likely to become ill after being exposed to a virus. Eight hours per night is recommended for adults. To establish better sleep habits, try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. It may help to discontinue screen usage one hour prior to getting in bed, and not getting in bed until you intend to go to sleep.
• Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Certain vitamins and minerals in those foods have been proven to boost the immune system. Good sources include:
Vitamin C -- Spinach, kale, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and papaya.
Vitamin E -- Almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.
Vitamin D -- Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, fortified milk, orange juice and cereal.
Folate -- Enriched pasta, bread, and rice.
Iron -- Red meat, chicken, turkey, sardines, oysters, clams, mussels, tuna, beans, broccoli and kale.
Selenium -- Seafood, liver, poultry and cottage cheese.
Zinc -- Crab, baked beans, yogurt and chickpeas.
• Use proper hand washing techniques to improve immunity and decrease infections. Hands should be washed after using the restroom, touching public surfaces, before eating or handling food, and before handling a child or infant. You should begin by wetting your hands and forearms with warm water. Then, apply soap and build a good lather. Wash your hands and arms thoroughly for at least thirty seconds. Finally, rinse under warm water and dry with a single-use towel.
• Another way to protect your immune system is through the practice of safe food handling. Before consuming any fruits and vegetables, be sure they have been rinsed thoroughly to remove any chemicals and unwanted bacteria. If cooking meat, it is important that the center of the cut has reached a safe temperature. Poultry and beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, pork is safe at 155 degrees, and fish is edible at 145 degrees. It is helpful to also be aware of the expiration dates on the food in your pantry and coolers. Food begins to gather bacteria at a certain point, and when that occurs you no longer want to consume the product.
Adopting healthy lifestyle practices and managing your environment are the best ways to improve and maintain the immune systems of yourself and your family. Using these tips and the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will aid you through the pandemic and point us to more normal times ahead.
The Garland County Cooperative Extension Service offers a variety of programs that provide educational opportunities for learning more about improving your health and offers a low-cost group exercise program for adults that is led by certified volunteer leaders. If you would like to learn more about our health and wellness programs, call 501-623-6841 or email [email protected] You can also follow our Facebook pages, https://www.facebook.com/garlandcountyextension and https://www.facebook.com/GarlandExtensionHomeLife
Contributors to this article included Dr. Pamela Pruett, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Mississippi County, Madison Simon and Savannah Fikes, Arkansas State University Dietetic Interns.
Master Gardener information
Master Gardener meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at the Elks Lodge. The meetings are open to the public, and guests are welcome. For more information, call the Extension office at 623-6841 or email Alex Dykes at [email protected]
Are you interested in joining an existing Extension Homemakers Club? EHC is the largest volunteer organization in the state. For information on EHC, call 623-6841 or email Alison Crane, family and consumer sciences agent, at [email protected] Follow Alison on Facebook @garlandEGF and @Garland FCS, and EHC on Facebook @GarlandCountyEHC.
There are several 4-H Clubs for Garland County youths who are 5 to 19 years old. For information about Garland County 4-H Club membership or program benefits, contact Carol Ann McAfee, family and consumer sciences agent, at the Extension office, call 501-623-6841, or email [email protected] More information is available at http://www.uaex.edu/garland.