Building a Strong Immune System: Part I
This article is the first of a 5 part series where I will be going over exactly that. Your immune system is everything when it comes to being resilient.
The dictionary defines being resilient as, "The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness." Vocabulary.com defines it as "the ability to stay intact". While there are many ways to articulate it, it comes down to being able to withstand or bounce back from any and all challenges that are thrown at you.
As we continue through the COVID-19 situation this is playing out in a number of ways. What have you learned about resiliency in the last year physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for example? I see examples across the spectrum as I'm sure you do too. Which sources do you surround yourself with?
How resilient are you right now? Are you where you want to be? Not surprisingly those of us who are less resilient tend to fare much worse when challenges come our way. I chose the name Break-Free Wellness for my business because I believe so strongly in not accepting health challenges (or anything really) that I don't have to.
Do we have to accept the Coronavirus? Yes, we do.
Do we have to accept what it can do to us physically if we happen to catch it? Absolutely not.
Do we have to check the news every 15 minutes, much of it fear-based and sensationalized by the media? No.
Do we have to sit on our hineys all day? No.
Do we have to stay up late watching TV? No.
Do we have to eat garbage? No.
Do we have to avoid the sun, fresh air, and exercise? No.
This is not "staying intact". This is not being strong in the face of adversity. This is what it's like to live in the disease-promoting inflammation fest of the fight or flight response. This is the opposite of being a resilient human being. This is you nuking your immune system. This makes you weak, sick and ages you without mercy. This is not your finest hour, Homer.
The hard truth is that many of us have been doing these types of things too often for too many years anyway. The hard truth is that for the vast majority of us who don't feel healthy in one way or another and/or have developed an underlying health condition, well, it's our own fault whether we are aware of it or not.
This puts us at a much higher risk of suffering through a subpar life of just getting by, instead of thriving. This puts us at a much higher risk of dying slowly, and well before our time. Those with the worst outcomes to COVID-19 (OR ANYTHING ELSE) are those that are less resilient.
Modern medicine can increase your "lifespan", but what about your "healthspan". That is up to you my friends and no one else. Well over 1 million people die each year from preventable illness in the U.S. I will say that last part again and capitalize it, PREVENTABLE ILLNESS.
Millions more feel like crap all the time which is no way to live. Being resilient is about not accepting things we don't have to. In the case of our health, it's about living strong, productive, happy, awesome lives...because we can.
OK, let's get to the top thing on my list when it comes to having an immune system like Captain America's shield, sleep.
Researchers in Germany have discovered that getting enough sleep improves our body's immune cell's ability to kill their target. To quote Science Daily:
"T cells are a type of white blood cell that is critical to the body's immune response. When T cells recognize a specific target, such as a cell infected with a virus, they activate sticky proteins known as integrins that allow them to attach to their target and, in the case of a virally infected cell, kill it." Awesome. Let's reference some more people smarter than me to help us do precisely that!
Dr. Daniel Gartenberg, Ph.D., has come up with what he calls, "the eight elements of restorative sleep". Most of us have just been told to get our 7-9 hours, but there is much more to it than that. Here are the 8 elements at a glance:
Sleep duration: According to Dr. Gartenberg optimal sleep duration is very individual, with some people needing as little as 6 hours a night. Bottom line is, you need enough.
Sleep efficiency: This is the difference between the amount of time you are in bed and the amount of time you are really sleeping. 90% or more is what you want, and anything less than 85% is not good.
Awakenings: The more you wake up during the night (and remember them), the worse off you are. Anything over 20 minutes is a problem.
Sleep onset latency: Falling asleep in 10-20 minutes is ideal. Less than 5 and you may be sleep-deprived, more than 20 and you may have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Deep sleep duration: As adults, 1.5 hours is pretty good, but as we age this gets harder unless we do something about it. Deep sleep is where muscle repair and regeneration take place, as well as powerful detoxification and cleansing of the brain.
REM sleep duration: 20% of your total sleep at least is the goal, but more can be better. REM sleep is huge when it comes to memory consolidation and mood.
Brain arousals: During sleep, your brain arouses a few times per hour, but any more than that can disturb deep and REM sleep. This is not the same as awakenings as they tend to occur with changes in your sleep environment that don't fully wake you (i.e. thunder)
Timing: Your circadian rhythm is highly dependent on when you go to bed, so having a consistent bedtime is extremely beneficial when it comes to keeping your body's clock accurate.
A sleep tracker is a fantastic tool "to track" Dr. Gartenberg's recommendations, but if you don't have one it's okay. There is plenty you can do starting tonight. Here are some of the top ways of nailing the kind of sleep he's referring to:
Avoid blue light at night - This is the light that emits from your phone, tablet, TV, street lamps, and LED lights. Turn them off around 2 hours before bedtime. Blue light blocking glasses can help, and download f.lux on all your devices. At my house, we have installed orange bulbs that we turn on after dark, or enjoy the fireplace and candles. We also installed blackout curtains to help create a sleep cave.
Meditate daily - Our minds are always racing from the day. Did I send that email? What are we eating tomorrow? Am I making a difference? When am I going to start working out? A fantastic start to meditation is the 4-7-8 breath by Dr. Andrew Weil. Quick, easy, powerful. Do it when you need to. Many of my clients swear by it!
Eat healthy fats - Your brain is mostly fat, and what you eat matters when it comes to sleep. Help it repair itself, as well as control your blood sugar by eating wild-caught salmon, grass-fed butter, and olive oil, etc. If you are like me, however, getting "some" high-quality carbs, especially for dinner, can be important too. If I don't my sleep is noticeably affected.
Magnesium - Magnesium helps many people sleep more deeply by calming the body down. Women especially, enjoy an Epsom salt bath at night. This is very effective at absorbing magnesium, not to mention incredibly relaxing which is what you want before trying to sleep.
Learn your sleep chronotype - Dr. Michael Breus has classified 4 categories here. Are you a bear, wolf, lion, or dolphin? Most of us are bears as we follow the sun. Wolfs need to go to bed later so there is less restlessness. Many people find Lions annoying as they always wake up early and must hit the hay early as well. If you are a dolphin you have a hard time falling asleep and wake up often. Working on your anxiety can be very helpful.
There are many other strategies for hacking your sleep but these are some powerful ways to get started without overwhelming yourself, causing more stress, and weakening your immune system even more! Those who sleep like superheroes are in many ways just like Captain America.
If you would like to be more resilient please subscribe to Break-Free Wellness and/or leave me a message by clicking on the orange tab at the bottom right of the page. We will sit down and discuss your health challenges and goals in a free health consultation over Zoom or at the Cafe of Life Chiropractic and Massage office.
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Bart Thurman, FDN-P, INHC, AFDNP Functional Health Coaching Cafe of Life Chiropractic 1325 Dry Creek Drive #307 Longmont, CO 80503 Office: 720-849-0124 Website: www.breakfreewellness.net