With back to school and flu season just around the corner, it's easy to wonder how your immune system has been affected after a year of social distancing and quarantines. Has it weakened your immune system? Made it stronger?
Immune systems after the pandemic
During the pandemic, some of the most social among us found ourselves withdrawn. Shelter in place orders, social distancing and quarantines pushed our communities to see less of each other — but what does isolation mean for your immune system and its effectiveness against flu season? The hygiene hypothesis proposes that continued exposure to viruses and bacteria in adolescence bolsters your immune system throughout life. With that theory in mind, some wonder if the adverse is true in adult years, and that quarantining throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has actually weakened our immune systems because we haven’t been exposed to as many germs or bacteria as usual.
But while going back into the office (or back to school) might warrant a small cold due to exposure to new germs, doctors don't believe a year of social distancing can drastically change your body's ability to fight off infection. Kids however, might face a few more colds than normal as they continue to grow and re-enter social settings.
Keep your immune system healthy
Although your immune system might not be detrimentally weakened after the pandemic, we're not out of the woods yet. Flu season is coming, and as the world continues to open up, new germs will come our way. Stay healthy and help you and your family's immune system function optimally by following these tips:
- Don't smoke. Smoking can disrupt the equilibrium of your immune system, putting your body, and those around you at risk for infection and further disease. Don't smoke, or stop smoking if you’ve started.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Keep your plate colorful. Fruits and vegetables are enriched with vital nutrients and minerals that'll give your body the energy it needs.
- Get enough sleep. The benefits of getting enough sleep are endless. Not only does it help your body reset, but it's a key component of maintaining balance and helping your immune system function properly.
- Minimize stress. Higher levels of stress can increase blood pressure and mess with your mental and overall health. Release excess stress by going on walks and exercising regularly.
- Find ways to socialize. Most of us have spent more time at home than ever before in the past year, but finding ways to safely spend time with others can help kids and adults become reacquainted with the world, benefiting mental and immune health.
- Keep up with vaccinations. Hopefully by now you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but there are other ways to remain vigilant. One of the best ways to stay healthy this fall is to get a flu shot — doing so can help your body fight off infection and ramp up your immune system with a stronger defense.
To help your immune system fight off those outside 'invaders', live a healthy life. Get outside, eat well and exercise regularly. While the pandemic can add understandable stress, find ways to ease worry and live fully. Your immune system will protect you as you take steps to protect it.
This article first appeared in the August 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.