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By Kristen Bell, Registered Dietitian
Sports Dietitian for Red Bull North America

These times are trying. We are stressed about putting our kids back in school or keeping them home. We turn on the news and instantly feel anxious about what our future holds. These stressful times can affect our immune system and taking steps to reduce your stress in a healthy way is important. When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, and we are susceptible to infections.

Stress can also have an indirect effect on the immune system as a person may use unhealthy behavioral coping strategies to reduce their stress, such as poor eating choices, lack of exercise, drinking, and smoking.

Here are some ways to increase your immunity and decrease your stress so you will be less susceptible to feeling ill and, on your way, to fighting anything that comes your way!

Decrease Stress Through Mindfulness.

Have a few mindful techniques that you know you can do consistently. This could be as easy as sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing and senses.  The Calm App is a great place to start to learn mindful and meditation strategies. There is a 7-day free trial when you sign up.

Limit screen time and media exposure to a few times a week or avoiding before bed all together so it’s not the last thing on your mind before you fall asleep. Setting boundaries can prevent feeling overwhelmed. It is important not to let fear control your life.

Decrease Stress Through Exercise.

We know these times can be hard on families financially and maybe you had to cancel your gym membership or cut back on extracurricular fitness activities. Don’t let that be the reason you fall behind in your exercise goals. There are plenty of free workout apps, and live Instagram workouts on Men’s Health and Women’s Health to follow along to.  Consider getting a few friends together for a walk or run. The key here is to make this a non-negotiable appointment so you don’t allow yourself to skip a workout. Make this time sacred for you to work on your fitness and stress levels.

Improve Your Immunity and Improve Stress Levels With a Healthy Diet.

When you eat healthy, you are more motivated to exercise. When you exercise more, your stress levels decrease.  See where I am going with this? Look at your schedule and see where you can add in some of these suggestions to keep building up a healthier way of eating.

  1. Have a foundation of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants is a great place to start. Here are a few ways to get in more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
    • Buy veggie trays. This will cut down your time to actually cut the vegetables. Set the tray on your counter during lunch and snack times. You will be more likely to eat these veggies simply because they are easily accessible and not in the back of your crisper drawer.
    • Add 1-2 handfuls of frozen chopped kale or spinach to a smoothie. This is the easiest way to add veggies and it doesn’t change the taste of your smoothie.
    • Add a handful of greens to the bottom of your soup or chili bowl. The hot temperature of the soup will wilt the greens and add a nice volume to your dish.
  2. Cut out what you have been adding in. What do I mean by this? It is safe to say that during this pandemic, everyone has picked up one or two bad habits that they need to break. A few pieces of chocolate here and there, a drink with dinner, mid-day sweet tooth break, the list goes on. This can easily add up to unwanted pounds, increased inflammation, and you guessed it, a more vulnerable immune system. Commit to improving your nutrition habits and small choices add up to big results if you stay consistent.
  3. Cook more at home. This will help you control what you put in your food, decrease the additive and preservatives, and gives you more control over your health. If you do eat out, don’t allow this as an opportunity to binge on foods you have been missing. Stay the course, watch your portions, always add a side salad or extra veggies to your dish, and commit to the long-term goal of less stress and improved immunity so we can all get through this on the other side better, and stronger!