Boost your immune system with vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc, one expert says, to decrease the risk of catching the flu. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by acknowledging feelings of anxiety, another says, and you will feel more emotionally stable
Apart from wearing a mask in crowded places, washing your hands and using hand sanitiser, what can we do to stay healthy – and calm – during the flu season, especially in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak?
We asked health and wellness practitioners in Hong Kong for their advice. All underlined the need for a healthy diet, maintaining personal hygiene and getting good rest. These are their top tips.
Jabs, annual checks pay healthy dividends
It’s not too late to get the flu vaccine, says Dr Joyce Lai, general practitioner at OT&P in Central, and this is especially important for the young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. The key is to get it when you are healthy.
Have an annual health check-up, Lai stresses, particularly if you have ongoing health conditions.
“If you have a condition like diabetes and it’s poorly controlled, and have asthma, then when you get the flu it’s more likely to develop into pneumonia or have complications, and recovery will be slower. So, make sure everything is in good working order.”
If you do feel unwell, see your doctor as soon as possible. “A rapid influenza test can give you a result in 15 minutes and quickly determine what you might have,” Lai says. “Anti-viral drugs for the flu should be taken within 48 hours, so it’s important to see your GP promptly.”
If you have a fever, after visiting the doctor, wait for at least 24 hours after the fever has subsided (without using fever reducing medicine) to leave home. If a family member is ill, adjust the sleeping arrangements – as best you can – so that they don’t infect other household members.
“Optimise everything that you can control – wash your hands, take care of your body, get enough sleep, eat nutritious food – and then you have no need to stress,” Lai says.
Defend yourself with powerful nutrients
Dietitian Sally Poon’s top three nutrients to ensure a strong immune system are vitamin C, zinc and iron. The benefits of vitamin C to boost immunity are well documented and Poon reminds people to take it before the onset of cold or flu symptoms.
“Try to get your vitamin C in its natural form, unless you know you aren’t getting enough from dietary sources,” says Poon, adding that citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and kiwis, as well as guava, bell peppers and broccoli, are all good sources.
Poon says a zinc deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections in children and the elderly.
To get enough zinc, she recommends eating oysters, poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, beans (especially cannellini beans and chickpeas) and nuts (cashews and almonds).
If you are getting enough zinc in your diet, then you are likely getting enough iron as the two are in a lot of common foods. “Vegetarians must make sure they eat the plant-based iron with vitamin C, which can enhance the absorption of plant-based iron.”
Nose breathing purifies air, technique lessens anxiety
Breathing through your nose instead of your mouth is one of the best things you can do when there is a virus going around, says Brian Lai, breathing coach and teacher at Fivelements in Causeway Bay. When air enters the body through the nose it is warmed, humidified and filtered before it gets to the lungs. Continue to breathe through the nose even when wearing a mask. “It makes a huge difference in terms of purifying the air,” he stresses.
“If people are in fear or worried, their body is in a stressful state, a sympathetic state. A breathing technique known as ‘box breathing’, as practised by Navy Seals, can help you stay calm. You inhale through your nose for five seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, exhale through the nose for five seconds, and then hold your breath for five seconds – that’s one round. Doing five or six rounds when you feel stressed will lessen your anxiety.”
Supplement, sleep well, take time for what you enjoy
“It’s best to arm the body with the things it needs to boost the immune system,” says Lawrence Tredrea, a nutritionist and naturopath at the Integrated Medicine Institute.
His top three nutrients: vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc. “Taking these will either decrease the risk of catching the flu, or decrease the severity of it if you do. In flu season I recommend taking a supplement so you can be sure you are getting a medicinal dose.”
He also recommends a combination of echinacea herb and root extract supplemented with elderberry – found in capsule form or tinctures in health food stores. “It’s good to help keep the throat well protected because that’s the first point of infection when we breathe in the air.”
Ensure you get enough sleep – “critical for the healing rejuvenation of your body” – and reducing stress, he says. “If the body is in a constant state of stress it can inhibit some of the immune functions. So, if you enjoy yoga, cooking, an art class – whatever you enjoy – make sure you have some ‘me’ time.”
Maintain training, keep moving
“Viruses tend to affect people who are weaker. If you are fit and training, your body is stronger and better able to fight a virus,” says Santiak Serrano, senior personal trainer at Pure Fitness.
He cautions against those who stay away from the gym for fear of getting sick from sharing a space with others. “I encourage clients to keep training. In the gym we maintain good hygiene – we encourage people to use alcohol towels, keep washing the machines and I always wash my hands between clients. Staying at home is not doing yourself any favours,” says Serrano.
“The fitter you are, the stronger your immune system. I encourage people to keep moving – and vary your gym workout so you are using more muscle groups, a range of motions, combining push, pull, rotational and core exercises. Mix it up.”
Acknowledge fear, don’t panic
News reports about the Wuhan coronavirus, runs on supermarkets, and seeing everyone wearing a mask can lead to stress and anxiety. If you are feeling anxious, take a moment or two to acknowledge the feeling, advises Elena Maria Foucher, a mindfulness practitioner.
“Facing the difficult feeling will help it dissipate,” she says, adding that trying to ignore it expends energy. “To face it and feel it helps us realise that the fear isn’t actually that tough to be in – it’s just a feeling.”
Afterwards, you are more emotionally stable and can see the situation more clearly.
“Sometimes anxiety leads to panic because first we feel fear, then immediately don’t want to feel it, and try to run from it,” she says. “We get panicked because no matter what we do to get away from our fear, it’s still there, and then we get more panicked. It can be a vicious cycle, especially when you throw in a tendency to catastrophise when we’re scared.”