By Dr Gareth Sessel , Director at Outreach Engineering NPC.
As South Africa enters the third wave of infection in the devastating pandemic, many people are exploring fad beliefs and expensive vitamin supplements to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In this era of fake news, it is essential for the scientific and medical communities to advocate practical methods for all people, irrespective of age or socioeconomic status, to strengthen their immune systems.
By now, we all know that the best ways to keep safe from the virus are to stay home whenever possible, or mask-up and maintain proper social distancing practices when we need to go out. Yet we should not overlook the importance of maintaining healthy behaviours, which also act to strengthen our immune systems to help fight disease.
Here are some tips in that regard—each of which can help to improve your overall health beyond the pandemic:
Eat healthy food, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables
People who suffer from conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are more likely to be hospitalised if they get COVID-19. Poor diet can be a key contributor to these conditions. With half the country’s women and almost a quarter of its men expected to be affected by obesity by 2025, obesity trends in South Africa reveal a serious public health crisis with staggering social and financial consequences.
Those of us who have experienced weight gain during lockdown should explore options to eat more healthily. One of the major imbalances in our society is that nutritious, fresh food is simply too expensive for many people in our country. Getting healthy food to more people must be a priority for NGOs and government agencies involved in poverty alleviation programmes.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
The World Health Organization recommends avoiding alcohol during the pandemic so that you do not weaken your immune system. Even moderate alcohol use may undermine the immune system and thus reduce its ability to combat infectious diseases. Furthermore, alcohol is not a healthy mechanism for coping with stress, and its inhibition-lowering effects are incompatible with the need for vigilance and social distancing.
Take regular exercise
Safe and appropriate physical exercise can strengthen your immune system, promote overall wellness, and help you to lose weight. Light or moderate exercise enhances the ability of the immune system to react quickly and effectively if you’re exposed to a virus. It also helps to trigger immunological actions that reduce the viral replication, inflammation, and tissue injury that accompany COVID-19 infections.
No matter your age, exercise is good for your heart and lungs. The WHO recommends that individuals should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for adults (over age 18) and at least an hour per day for children (over age five). Regular exercise is also crucial to maintain adequate bone density, reduce frailty, provide a high quality of life, and lessen reliance on healthcare services.
There are many free tutorials that demonstrate exercise routines which do not require specialised equipment and can be performed at home. Simple exercises such as squats, climbing steps, and even going for a walk can provide very significant health benefits, including the strengthening of the immune system and helping with typical cases of “lockdown blues”.
Don’t ignore potential symptoms
If you are experiencing any symptoms of physical illness, such as fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, do not continue to exercise and consult a healthcare professional for advice. Self-isolate for the safety of other people. Phone your doctor for advice and get a COVID-19 test to confirm if you have the virus.
There is no silver bullet cure for COVID-19. Take rest, healthy food and fluids while you recuperate. You should seek medical advice if you experience the following:
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
- high temperature (if you have access to a thermometer, that’s above 38°C)
At Outreach Engineering, we have seen the difference these tips are making for staff and residents of the Johannesburg Children’s Home (JCH), which provides a refuge for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. Outreach Engineering NPC recently donated and constructed an outdoor gym at the JCH premises, to allow the children and staff to remain active during these challenging times.