Gut health to workouts: Seven ways to optimise your health in a Covid world

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Gut health to workouts: Seven ways to optimise your health in a Covid world

First things first, being vaccinated is your best guard against Covid. There is no supplement, diet or lifestyle modification that can stop you contracting the virus. But as we return to the red light setting and double down on masking up, social distancing and washing our hands, is there anything else we can do to ensure we’re in top health right now?

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As much as spending more time at home again might look like an existence bound in slovenly lethargy (read: comfort eating in sweat pants), it’s not the lifestyle we should seek if we really want to boost our immune systems.

From exercise to immune-boosting foods, here are seven ways to be sure, in addition to being fully vaccinated and following recommended Covid safety measures, you’re doing the absolute most to stay healthy and well.

Exercise

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Getting off the couch may be the last thing you feel like doing right now, but it could be one of the best things you can do to stay well.

Sebastien Chastin is a Professor of Health Behaviour Dynamics at Glasgow Caledonian University. Along with colleagues, he has undertaken a review of “all available evidence relating to the effect of physical activity on the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious diseases such as pneumonia – a frequent cause of death from Covid-19 – on the functioning of the immune system and on the outcome of vaccination.”

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What Chastin and co found was that regular physical activity:

• Strengthens the human immune system

• Reduces the risk of falling ill and dying from infectious disease by more than a third

• Significantly increases the effectiveness of vaccination campaigns.

So, whether it’s getting out for a walk or downloading that fitness app you deleted from your phone last lockdown, adding physical activity into your routine will do you a world of good.

Garlic

Gut health to workouts: Seven ways to optimise your health in a Covid world

Allicin is the compound that gives garlic its smell. Photo / Getty Images

Almost as much as a food, garlic has been considered a medicine for centuries. And studies have shown it may help reduce cold and flu symptoms and the length of time we’re sick for.

The key is believed to be a compound called alliin, which when crushed or chewed converts to allicin – and gives garlic its smell. Allicin’s instability causes it to convert to sulfur-containing compounds. It’s these that are abundant in garlic and found to boost the disease-fighting response of certain white blood cells.

A 2015 study in Mexico examined the findings of experiments that showed garlic “appears to enhance the functioning of the immune system by stimulating certain cell types”.

Good for your gut

Gut health to workouts: Seven ways to optimise your health in a Covid world

The best way to build up your microbiome diversity is by limiting or avoiding ultra-processed foods, including alcohol, and eating a wide range of plant-based foods. Photo / Getty Images

Recent research has shown that our gut microbiome plays an essential role in our body’s immune response to infection and in maintaining overall health.

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, in an article for The Conversation, writes that rather than taking supplements, the best way to build up your microbiome diversity is by limiting or avoiding ultra-processed foods, including alcohol, and eating a wide range of plant-based foods.

He points to a Mediterranean diet as being “shown to improve gut microbiome diversity and reduce inflammation”.

So add salmon, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruit and vegetables to your next shopping list.

READ MORE: • The best brain foods you’re not eating

Broccoli

If you loathe putting any sort of green on your plate but know you should for the sake of your health, broccoli is the one worth enduring.

It’s one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat -especially in raw form – with a list that includes vitamins A, C and E, antioxidants and fibre. In fact, half a cup of this cruciferous veg packs more vitamin C than half an orange.

Shellfish

Certain shellfish contains high levels of zinc, which can be critical to ensure our immune cells function as they should. It can also support reproductive health, DNA synthesis, healing of wounds and growth.

Pick up a pot of mussels, oysters or some crab to boost your intake, but don’t go to town on them: too much zinc is said to inhibit immune system functions. You’re aiming for roughly 11mg for men and 8mg for women.

Yogurt

Gut health to workouts: Seven ways to optimise your health in a Covid world

Look for Greek yogurt and the mention of “live and active” cultures on packaging. Photo / Getty Images

This doesn’t mean you can go ahead and swipe a tub of something that resembles dessert more than a natural dairy product into your trolley.

There’s yogurt, and then there’s yogurt. True, one is delicious, sugary gloop and the other is tart and plain, but it’s only the latter that’s any good for you.

For yogurt that can potentially help boost your immune system, look for Greek and the mention of “live and active” cultures on packaging.

Some yogurts are a good place to get a dose of vitamin D too, which can also help strengthen your immune system.

Citrus

Unless you have a real aversion to oranges and the like, adding citrus fruits to your diet is an easy way to ensure you’re not deficient in vitamin C, which is depleted when you’re unwell.

Contrary to claims by Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, who made popular the theory that vitamin C helps treat colds, an analysis of numerous studies has found that vitamin C can’t reduce your risk of getting sick. However, in the case of a common cold, it can reduce the severity and duration.

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