The Fourth W: Wellness
Updated: Feb 4
Submitted to the The Wilson Times by: Susan Bane, M.D., Ph.D
Everywhere you look, there are messages asking people to remember three things to protect ourselves and others as we try to continue to slow the spread of COVID-19: Wear, wait and wash. We are reminded to wear a mask over our nose and mouth, wait 6 feet away from other people and wash our hands.
The Wilson Wellness Collaborative is a team of individuals from across the county committed to the improvement of health and wellness in our community. We would like to recommend a fourth W be added to this list — wellness.
Wellness is the process of practicing healthy habits on a daily basis to attain improved health. Health is defined as a state of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being and is not just the absence of disease. Physical health involves our bodies’ ability to optimally function, whereas mental health relates to our psychological and emotional well-being. Spiritual health relates to meaning and purpose that we receive from our faith, beliefs, values, ethics, principles and morals. Social health refers to our ability to form satisfying interpersonal relationships with others.
While each aspect of health is important, try not to think of them as separate, as they are interrelated. We know poor physical health can increase the risk of developing mental health issues. For example, think of how living with chronic pain can lead to depression or how being spiritually healthy can help a person cope with a cancer diagnosis.
Health happens 24/7 and not just when we are in our health care provider’s office. Health happens with every decision we make all day long — do I drink a glass of water or have a soda? Do I go to bed now and get eight hours of sleep or watch just one more episode — or maybe two or three more — and get six hours of sleep? Do I walk outside with my dog or skip it today?
The WWC strives to build a “culture of health” in our community, and this is particularly important during the pandemic because we recognize that individuals with underlying medical conditions or chronic disease are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 and experience the most severe course of the illness, including death. Thus, the WWC is providing a series of articles in which various members from across the community will share information designed to help all of us develop healthy resiliency during this pandemic and create our own personal “culture of health.”
PERSONAL PROTECTIVE LIFESTYLE
Your immune system needs you! It needs you to keep it healthy to not only reduce your chance of getting COVID-19, but to also help you heal from COVID-19 if you get the virus. Our bodies are amazing, and we have the ability to make a difference in our own health by how we live.
You have likely heard the term personal protective equipment or PPE during the pandemic. Well, let’s add a personal protective lifestyle, or PPL, to that PPE. Here are a few tips you can start today from an article entitled “Boosting Immunity: Functional Medicine Tips on Prevention and Optimizing Immune Function During the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak.”
Sleep: Sleep has a big influence on immune function, so it is essential to get plenty of sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and maintain consistent sleep hours — turn off screens, ensure the room is cool, quiet and dark, and set a reminder to help yourself go to bed on time.
Stress reduction: Chronic stress can negatively alter immune system responses, making us more likely to get sick. Identify your personal stress reduction strategies and practice them regularly. For example, consider how you can stay connected with others during this time, how your relationships with others affect you and how your spirituality can best help you manage your stress.
Exercise: Moderate, regular physical activity helps to boost immune system function by raising levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies, increasing circulation and decreasing stress hormones. Find ways to move — mow your grass, walk the dog, play a sport, use the stairs or take a yoga class.
Nutritious foods/diet: Try to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet, minimizing sugary and processed foods. Research indicates that brightly colored vegetables and fruits boost immunity. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables throughout the day.
Vitamins and minerals: In addition to eating vegetables and fruit, there are several vitamins, nutrients and plant-based supplements that can boost immune function and provide symptom relief during illness and may help to shorten the duration of illness.
Vitamin C may help prevent infections and has been shown to shorten the duration of colds.
Vitamin D has been shown to help reduce the risk of colds and flu. Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” many people are deficient and often need daily supplementation, especially in the winter months.
Zinc plays an important role in boosting immunity. Zinc can help to reduce the frequency of infections, as well as the duration and severity of the common cold when taken within 24 hours of onset.
Selenium is an antioxidant and key nutrient for immune function. If you like Brazil nuts, they are a very rich source.
Probiotics contain “good bacteria” that not only support the health of the gut, but also influence immune system functioning and regulation. Studies have shown that probiotic use can decrease the number of respiratory infections, particularly in children.
Susan Bane, M.D., Ph.D, is an associate professor of physical education and sport studies at Barton College and a women’s health physician.