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There has never been a more important time in history for people to concentrate on building up their immune health. Kenneth H. Cooper, MD, MPH, Founder and Chairman of Cooper Aerobics, explains how to boost immune health to protect yourself against acute diseases such as bacterial or viral infections. Throughout the pandemic of COVID-19, there is good news that people can still take action to support their immunity. Acute immunity is what the body needs in order to protect us from acute infections that develop quickly such as viral infections, influenza, colds or even coronavirus.

How to boost your immune health against acute diseases

1. Exercise is important now

In order to build up your acute immunity against COVID-19, exercise is extremely important. Any type of sustained physical activity as short as 30 minutes several times a week can have tremendous benefits for each of us. One of The Cooper Institute’s well-known studies published November 3, 1989, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality,” was classified by American Heart Association as the landmark study of the century answering the question of how much exercise is necessary. We have also shown that even minimal exercise can prevent deaths of all causes including heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer by up to 58% and increase longevity for up to 6 years. It was estimated by former Surgeon General Satcher in 1986 that if Americans would just avoid inactivity, the cost of healthcare would drop significantly. The Cooper Institute’s Medicare study, following subjects for 25 years, show clearly that the cost of healthcare can be reduced by 40% by embracing an active lifestyle.

2. Sleep boosts immune health

Sleep is a very important factor in improving your acute immunity against acute disease. I strongly recommend you get seven to eight hours of sleep per night in order to give your body the restoration it needs to fight off infection.

3. Determine and control BMI

A study out of New York regarding the COVID-19 hospitalizations in New York City revealed the number one risk factor was being over 65 years of age and number two was obesity. To determine your body mass index (BMI), which should be under 25, you can calculate your BMI here. These two risk factors were more important regarding hospitalizations in the New York study than were comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease and pulmonary problems.

4. Good diet

A well-balanced diet containing all of the food groups boost immune health as it fuels a strong immune system and reduces the risk of chronic illnesses and infectious diseases. 30-50 mg of zinc per day has been shown to be essential for innate and adaptive immunity. Boost immune health by eating a balanced diet with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. In addition, I recommend a daily serving of nuts, such as cashews, (a one-ounce serving is about ¼ cup) which provides zinc. Apparently zinc offers some protection against COVID-19.

5. Hydration is key

Staying well-hydrated is another essential component to support your immunity. Drink a lot of water! Hydration is particularly important in the summer months to keep your internal organs functioning properly which, in turn, keep your immunity up for acute and chronic diseases. Do not rely upon soft drinks, fruit juices or other types of beverages. Drink lots of water—at least four 6-8 ounce glasses per day.

6. Supplementation

Boost immune health with vitamin D. The value of vitamin D and building up your immunity against respiratory diseases is something I am particularly excited about. Research from Northwestern University in Chicago analyzed data from hospitals and clinics around the world shows that countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases such as Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom had lower levels of vitamin D than other countries that were not as severely affected. This study showed that vitamin D levels may impact COVID-19 mortality rates by suppressing cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients. It also proves that vitamin D enhances our innate immune systems and prevents them from becoming dangerously overactive. Researchers suggest having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death, from COVID-19.

A study in the British Medical Journal from 2018 recommends vitamin D level should be above 25. A second study from Australia recommends vitamin D blood levels be between 50-100 to provide maximum protection against respiratory viruses.

I strongly recommend a vitamin D level of 50 or greater for my patients. I suggest taking a one-a-day vitamin supplement, and specifically our Cooper Complete® Basic One, which has 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D3. This vitamin also has 150 mg of vitamin C and 15 mg of zinc, all of which can be important in building up your immunity.

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7. Smoke-free environment

I recommend refraining from using tobacco in any form. There is no way you can safely use tobacco and even secondhand smoke can be very dangerous to your immune system. This is especially true in this time of increased susceptibility to disease. You want to live in a smoke-free environment and try to stop smoking or at least cut down the number of cigarettes you smoke daily if you can during this time in quarantine.

8. Limit alcohol consumption

If you consume too much alcohol, it can certainly bring down your immunity. A major article, Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, published in the British journal, Lancet, in 2019, showed that if men were to drink two drinks per day, totaling 14 drinks per week, it would shorten their lifespan by one and a half to two years. The researchers strongly recommend men and women, if they drink, drink no more than one drink per day because of the long list of medical problems associated with consuming too much alcohol. I personally do not drink and encourage you not to drink, or at least limit alcohol consumption during this time to boost immune health.

9. Manage stress

Another way to positively affect your immunity is to manage your stress. One study showed that people under stress had an increased risk of coming down with a respiratory infection, such as a cold, due to an increased level of cortisol, which is one of the stress responses that drops your immunity. One way I control stress in my life is by exercising at the end of the day which helps me sleep at night and enables me to build my immunity. Activities such as yoga and meditation can also help control stress. Dr. Herbert Benson’s book, The Relaxation Response, offers techniques to control stress including proper breathing. Even spending time on social media can increase the stress in your life and reduce your immunity.

Even though I have been in quarantine because of my age and have not been able to actively see patients, I am encouraging my patients to practice these important recommendations. At 89 years of age, I am controlling my weight and diet, I don’t consume alcohol and I’ve been walking two to three miles per day. Up until this point, I have certainly enjoyed good health and have not had any symptoms or signs of COVID-19.

If you aren’t doing these things now, it is important to start immediately to build up your immunity to protect yourself against COVID-19. There is always going to be another coronavirus in the future. Now is the time to boost immune health by following these recommendations, which hopefully will protect you from the devastating effects of COVID-19 as well as other acute diseases.

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