Do we just wait locked in our homes for coronavirus to attack us or prepare our bodies to fight? The coronavirus has become a household name today. We all know most of the things about the coronavirus. The bare truth which is now known to all is that the virus spreads fast and is fatal in some. We have yet to find a cure. While we stay locked down and live in fear, it is important to understand how we can make our bodies immune to the virus and maintain well-being on a routine basis.
Regular physical activity and exercise have numerous beneficial health effects. It reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases in all age groups including elders. Epidemiological evidence indicates that communicable diseases such as viral and bacterial infections, as well as non-communicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders show improvements or slowing through exercising. With exercise, lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells that fight infection) in blood, natural killer cells (a type of cells to fight infections), and T cells (a type of immune response cell) increase dramatically. Regular exercising appears to “stimulate” the immune system. The T cells and natural killer cells are anti-viral cells that fight virus born infections. The beneficial effects of exercise on immune function are likely to be greatest for elderly people exhibiting age-associated deterioration of immune competency, a conditionknown as immunosenescence in technical terms. Evidence also suggests that physical activity and regular structured exercise may even limit or delay immunological ageing and helps fight obesity. Simple body exercises such as walking, walking on heels and toes, straight and side leg raises, toe and knee lifts, ankle rotations, shoulder rolls and front and side arm raises should be taken up by elders as these significantly lower the risk of developing corona or any other disease.
Medical scientists have suggested that positive mood is associated with (but not necessarily caused by) increased levels of dopamine in the brain. One might predict that negative mood is simply associated with lower dopamine levels. A neurochemical agent that is associated with emotional states is serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mediates satisfaction, happiness and optimism. Researches indicate that increased serotonin levels are related to positive mood. It promotes sleep, improves self-esteem, relieves depression, diminishes craving, and prevents agitated depression and anxiety. Serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods such as chicken, eggs, cheese, beans, lentils, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin, chia seeds, and nuts. It is the perfect supplement to beat the corona blues that everyone is facing.
Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter that is associated with a positive attitude. It makes one feel alert and motivated. It is an anti-depressant, controls appetite, is good for sexual arousal. Endorphin is a neurotransmitter for happiness. The more present, the better you feel. It works as a natural pain killer. Foods that contain amino acid and tyrosine, are particularly recommended. They can be found in cheese and other dairy products, soybean, nuts, and whole grains. Beans, legumes, bananas, oatmeal, fish and meats are also a good source of norepinephrine. Endorphins are found in chocolates and most green vegetables. Norepinephrine and endorphin levels can be increased naturally through exercising for at least half an hour a day, by taking a cold shower and getting plenty of sleep. Melatonin is produced in the brain during the night. It is linked to our body’s readiness for sleep. It is regarded as a “rest and recuperation” and “anti-ageing” hormone. The level of melatonin varies in a 24-hour cycle and is controlled by bright light particularly sunlight. Melatonin also influences our positive mindset. It can be boosted by avoiding smart phone exposure at night, sun exposure in the morning, keeping bedroom dimly lit, eating fruits and vegetables such as corn, cucumber and lots of fruits. Nuts like walnuts and seeds like flax are a good source too. The yoga posture‘Shavasana’ is said to improve melatonin levels!
Another important hormone is cortisol which is a marker for depression. High levels of morning cortisol have been linked to depression and anxiety and less salivary cortisol is a good predictor of well-being. Estrogen is another good hormone which decreases with menopause, and lifestyle factors such as smoking. Extreme exercising can also lower it. Estrogen/progesterone imbalance can also negatively affect mood. Stress management can balance them, since stress hormones, such as cortisol, interfere with the secretion, action and function of the two hormones. Progesterone like melatonin helps us to sleep well and prevent anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Soybeans, flax, sesame seeds, strawberries, peaches, pistachios, peanuts, and walnuts improve estrogen levels. Red wine also increases estrogen levels.
Endocannabinoids or “the bliss molecule” is located in the human central nervous system and it helps in pain perception, reduces pain and lowers anxiety. Oxytocin is related to a spectrum of behavioural and physiological effects which include maternal, sexual and social behaviours. It facilitates our relationship with others, and it is associated with positive social behaviours. It promotes sexual arousal and feelings of emotional attachment. It can be boosted by reducing stress and alcohol consumption, regular exercises and eating herbs and spices such as black pepper and turmeric. 70 per cent dark chocolate, flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts are also a good source.
Help mother nature – strive for a clean environment
Air pollution is comprised of a diverse mixture of particulate matter (PM), gases (e.g. ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides), organic compounds like hydrocarbons and metals (e.g. vanadium, nickel, and manganese) present in outdoor and indoor air. The PM particles in the air are the respirable fractions originating from sources such as road and agricultural dust, tire wear emissions, wood combustion, construction and demolition works, and mining operations. It is also formed from gas and condensation of high-temperature vapours during combustion and industrial activities. Major sources include oil refineries, metal processing facilities, tailpipe and brake emissions from mobile sources, residential fuel combustion, power plants, and wildfires. The nanometer size of these particles allows them to easily penetrate our body and deposit in lungs, the respiratory tract and other places.
Air pollution leads to a proinflammatory state in the brain. Air pollution exposure can lead to neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, cerebrovascular damage, and neurodegenerative diseases. Higher concentrations of PM are also associated with an increased risk of psychological distress. Under lockdown, there has been a dramatic improvement in air quality around the world. This will surely extrapolate into better mental health.
Spend time with loved ones
Finally, the best medical advice is to spend time at home in the comfort and affection of the loved ones. Doing simple, pleasurable things such spending time with your partner, kids or your pet(s) provides a boost to the level of oxytocin in the body which is related to a positive state of mind and body. Rather than spending time on social media, activities such as yoga, meditation, taking a hot bath, reading a book – or whatever works for you – increase estrogen in the body and help in relieving stress. And while you’re at it, constantly remind yourself that the best ways to stay healthy are through the realization that one is worthy of happiness.
Written by Dr. Mukesh Dubey