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The journey to better health is easier than you might think.

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As the world works towards herd immunity against COVID-19, a point where most of the population have been immunised against the disease and can protect its non-immune members, many of us are concerned about how we can keep ourselves and our loved ones safe until that point comes.

While no simple lifestyle change can fully prevent you from getting COVID-19, there are still many natural strategies that can improve your overall immunity and help you lead a happier and healthier life. From slight alterations to your diet to increasing the number of hours you sleep each night, there are many simple methods that you should consider to help strengthen your immune system and protect those you love.

But why should you care? Well, in severe cases of COVID-19, when our immune system cannot remove the virus naturally, our body releases a ‘cytokine storm’. This can cause your body’s inflammation to increase dramatically and potentially damage vital organs. Those that have underlying conditions associated with inflammation, like those with cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, are more at risk of developing such a serious response.

Putting more focus on healthy eating, such as eating more whole plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, can help combat harmful pathogens like COVID as they contain nutrients and antioxidants that decrease chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of certain health conditions like those listed above. Some studies have also found that COVID-19 may also use our digestive tract as a potential route. By eating fermented foods and plant foods, it  helps feed healthy bacteria in your body that improve your immunity and prevent pathogens from harming the body through your gut.

Moderate exercise, even a single session of brisk walking, cycling, jogging, swimming and easy hiking, can improve your immune system with studies showing that it may even reduce inflammation, help your immune cells regenerate regularly and make vaccines more effective for people with compromised immune systems. Prolonged stress can also create inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function, which is why activities like yoga and meditation or journaling, can help you manage not only your stress, but also your immunity.

Sleep is also a crucial time for the body to regenerate and strengthen your immune system. A study found that people who sleep less than six hours at night were more likely to catch a cold which is why adults should aim to get at least seven hours of sleep each night, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have trouble falling asleep, try limiting your screen time an hour before bed as the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Other suggestions from the CDC include sleeping in a completely dark room, going to bed at the same time every night, exercising regularly and using an eye mask.

If you must travel outside your home, wearing a face mask, frequent handwashing with soap and physical distancing, can reduce your chances of getting any illness, not just COVID. For most people, cloth masks are most accessible and can trap droplets protecting both the wearer and those they interact with. Masks with multiple layers of tightly woven fabric which fit snugly over the mouth and nose are most effective. If you are using a reusable cloth mask, you should wash or sanitize your hands before and after putting your mask on, avoid touching it while wearing it, change it if it gets wet or dirty, and wash them regularly.

There is no doubt that many of us are exhausted by the toll COVID-19 has placed on our lives but because of this pandemic, we are connected to our health and wellbeing more than ever, for better or for worse. Taking care of our health is not only our duty to our bodies but also our duty to the community, so we can prevent those who are most vulnerable from bearing the burden this virus has caused. We have a little longer to go but with these small changes to our habits, we might be able to get to the world we miss a bit quicker.