I’m sitting here at my desk in Tokyo. Truth be told, that desk is at a business client for whom I do IT support. It’s just about 5:30 p.m. and I’ve been here since 5:45 a.m. “Why such an early start,” you might ask? I’ve been taking the first train of the morning on my train line, 4:53 a.m., to try to minimize my exposure to others. Tokyo trains are notorious for being crowded and the earlier I get under way, the fewer people I’m likely to encounter.
As I sit here at this client, I’m supporting the staff who, with the exception of one other soul in the office today, all are working from home. I’m on-site to address problems that simply cannot be addressed over VPN. We rotate two engineers through this site on a one week on/one week off basis. By forcing engineers to work from home every second week, it goes a long way to minimize risk of exposure. And while I’m here, I’m washing my hands and sanitizing with alcohol each and every time I touch someone’s PC, desk or keyboard. It’s as much to protect them as it is to protect me.
Being a creature of habit, it’s one of those funny things to become aware of how many times I tend to touch my face over the course of a day. I’m trying very, very hard to be mindful of ignoring itches. If I really can’t stand it, I’ll spritz well with alcohol, clean vigorously and then use a tissue to address the area. My hands are getting dry, so with next week being scheduled as work-from-home, I’m looking forward to some moisture finding its way back into my parched skin.
This blog is not going to give you promises of miracle cures with regard to how to prevent or cure COVID-19. There are no magic bullets. SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a novel disease. When it comes to infectious diseases, a novel disease is one for which the human body has no natural immunity. Our bodies have never seen this illness before, so when we get infected during this first wave of infections, it’s going to be the very first time our bodies have seen these viruses. Our immune systems must learn how to deal with this virus from scratch.
Okay, So What’s This Nonsense About Improving My Odds?
That’s a great question! I’m glad you asked. While there is no magic bullet that can confer immunity to you to prevent infection or any medications that will miraculously cure you should you find yourself infected, there are steps you can take that can go a long way to helping you come out of this so-called New Normal with your health and your sanity intact. I’m going to describe a few things you can do to help mitigate risk to yourself and those you love. Note that these only represent suggestions based on my personal opinions. They will present what I consider to be common-sense physical- and mental-health best practices. I strongly encourage you to evaluate these suggestions will all do caution and, BY ALL MEANS, check with a qualified medical professional whether the advice is sound!
Exercise to Improve Your Physical Well-being
Many regions are facing stay-at-home, shelter-in-place and/or full lockdown scenarios. Some areas allow people to venture outside to get some exercise and fresh air, while other areas are more strict in enforcing all people to stay inside. Regardless of the situation in which you find yourself, exercise in some fashion is an important component to improving your health and reducing chronic inflammation. If you can get outside for a walk or a run, legally and in accordance with all your local laws, please do so. Avoid groups and absolutely avoid contact with people.
If you’re unable to get outside for your exercise, still do some exercise inside. You don’t need to go to a gym to do some good for your body. Body-weight exercises are excellent and require no equipment whatsoever. Squats, crunches, hip twists, leg raises and more are all options. For those of you who enjoy working out with apps, Runtastic is one that I have used since 2013 to track the distance I walk/run/hike, as well as using their Six Pack app for core body-weight workouts. Squats Pro is another app that I use. And now that my 14-hour on-call days are finished for this week, I’m sincerely looking forward to work off some of the stress and fat I’ve accumulated this week.
Exercise isn’t merely physically healing, it also helps to alleviate mental stress. Stress relief is essential in these times, as chronic stress that is left unaddressed will almost invariably lead to chronic inflammation and/or disease. Chronic inflammation is an unwanted immune system response and during this global pandemic, chronic inflammation puts us at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to dealing with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
If you’re unwell and can’t really do much, even just ensuring that you stand up for a few minutes every waking hour goes a long way to making you healthier. In our technology age, sitting is now an epidemic of its own. The more we can get off our collective butts and move, the better off we’ll be.
Eat Healthful Food to the Highest Degree Possible
Grabbing a tub of ice cream from the freezer and deep diving into your favourite comfort food brings a transient sense of well-being, but it also brings with it inflammation and a pretty serious punch in the immune system if you go overboard. If you want to treat yourself, do so by erring on the side of very small amounts. Moderation is essential.
For your meals, eat as well as you can. We all know that grandma was right about eating our fruits and veggies. The healthier we can eat, the healthier our intestinal gut flora will be, and the importance of a healthy, well-balanced gut flora cannot be overstated. Eating food that is high in dietary fibre is an excellent way of ensuring that your gut flora are happy.
If you’ve been eating fast food and avoiding most veggies for years, I might suggest that you make a moderately gradual transition from daily burgers and fries to a more balanced diet over the course of a week or so. Our bowels can be delicate environments and when we drastically change the type of foods going in, it can have a rather dramatic effect on the consistency of the waste coming out the other end. Change is good and moderated change is nearly always better.
Meditation and Focused Breathing
With my busy schedule lately, I have not been attending to a daily meditation practice to the degree that I would like. Next week, my work-from-home week, will see more attention to the breath and, boy, am I ever looking forward to it!
A lot gets written about meditation and yet there is still heaps of misunderstanding about what meditation actually is. Some write about it as it being some sort of strict mental practice (it can be, I guess) or as some mystical/spiritual tool (which, again, it can be). At its essence, however, meditation is nothing more or less than focused awareness. The key here is the focus. As with the coherent light of a laser pointer, we bring our awareness to something and hold it there to the best of our ability.
For me, I like to focus on my breathing. I take a very slow breathing pattern, four breaths per minute is about my average, and just try as much as I can to have 100% of my attention on controlling and fully experiencing each and every breath for the duration of my meditation. When my mind wanders, which it ALWAYS does, I simply bring my awareness back to my breath. And so it is. That’s all meditation is. Focus your awareness, notice your mind wandering and then bring your awareness back to where you wanted it. Rinse and repeat.
My Apple Watch has the “Breathe” app that lets me enjoy occasional 1-minute meditations. If I haven’t started the app myself for a certain period of time — and I’m not being physically active — the app will gently buzz my wrist to remind me that it’s probably a good time to take one minute out of my day to focus my awareness. I love it. During a long day of computer work, those breaks to breathe reduce stress, improve my mental acuity and help me to do my job better.
If you’re worried about doing it wrong, don’t. There is no wrong. I’ve taught a lot of people how to meditate and I’ve often heard students worry about being bad at meditating, that they can’t “empty” their mind. Well, yeah. Of COURSE! We call it a meditation practice for a reason: Our minds are intrinsically wired to wander. Nobody who meditates for an hour sits there with nary a thought floating by during that hour. It just doesn’t happen. We all stumble. The goal isn’t actually the no-thought realm. The goal is the focus that takes us closer to that realm. So, relax and enjoy the journey.
Supplementation: Vitamins and Minerals that Might Help
First, let’s get it out of the way: I’m not a doctor and anything I write in this and subsequent paragraphs are my unqualified, personal opinion. DO check these suggestions with a qualified medical professional. Okay, so that out of the way, I’m a firm believer in supplementation and I think that there are a few really useful supplements that can assist your body in dealing with a COVID-19 infection. It will NOT stop you from getting it and it will NOT cure you in case you get infected. Bottom line: Supplementation can only ensure that your body has the best possible nutrients and vitamins present with which to maintain health and heal as quickly as possible via the body’s natural healing processes.
Vitamin D: One of the most interesting aspects of Vitamin D is that it can promote a moderated immune response that avoids the so-called cytokine storm that some people experience from COVID-19 infections. A cytokine storm is a situation in which the immune system generates an excessive inflammatory response. Because COVID-19 affects the lower respiratory system, having an adequate inflammatory response is essential.
It’s worth noting that inflammation is an essential tool in our immune toolkit. It’s a signal to processes in our body that undertake maintenance and repair. It can trigger our immune system to come in and attack invaders, repair damaged cells or even destroy and break down cells that have gotten out of control, e.g., cancer, or cells that have died and need to be recycled. Inflammation, at the right times and in the right amounts, is a GOOD thing. What we want to avoid is excessive inflammation at a time and/or place that is unwarranted.
Vitamin D supplementation might be helpful in reducing the chance of a cytokine storm. It’s my understanding that if we maintain Vitamin D levels of 60-80 ng/mL, our risk of a COVID-19-triggered cytokine storm can be reduced by significant levels. If you’re unsure of how much Vitamin D levels you have in your body, see your doctor for quick and easy blood test. Additionally, you can get a tracking app, such as D Minder Pro, to assist you in evaluating your Vitamin D blood serum levels based on weight, skin type, diet, sun exposure and supplementation.
Zinc: Zinc has been recommended for the treatment of common colds for a very long time. Typically, zinc lozenges are used to help reduce the discomfort of sore throats and coughs during colds. The common cold is also a coronavirus. While zinc will NOT protect you from being infected, it might help you to recover from an infection with reduced symptoms. I personally take 30-50 mg of zinc supplements/day rather than lozenges. Ask your medical professional whether zinc supplementation is something you’d like to consider.
Vitamin C: Long known as an essential tool in maintaining a strong immune system, Vitamin C cannot be overlooked in giving our body a solid leg up to facing a COVID-19 infection. I personally take about 6 grams of Vitamin C per day, but it’s important that you tailor whatever amount you take to an amount that ensures you do not have symptoms. Excessive oral Vitamin C intake can express such things as loose bowels, so an amount that is appropriate will certainly require that your bowels are healthful.
There are dramatically differing ideas on what constitutes an appropriate Recommended Daily Allowance. If you are unsure of what is an appropriate amount for you to take, DO discuss the matter with a qualified medical professional.
And Finally …
Overall, nothing I’m writing here is magical. To me, it’s nothing more than common sense. Get good quality sleep, exercise, address mental and physical stress in healthful means, eat well and take supplementation to bolster that healthful diet.
Nothing here promises to protect you from infection. DO NOT BUY INTO PRODUCTS THAT PROMISE TO PREVENT INFECTION! NO SUCH PRODUCTS EXIST! Colloidal silver, magic toothpaste, special mushrooms or other snake oils are served up by people who are opportunistically looking at your fear as a way of making money. DO NOT fall for their nonsense.
In this time, it’s essential that you use your capacity for critical thinking. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If it promises something, know that nothing can promise any cure or prevention. The best thing we can do is to take as good care of our health as we possibly can. What gets us out of danger and back to health after a COVID-19 experience is our OWN immune system.
Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face. If you blow your nose, properly discard the tissue and wash your hands. DON’T PANIC — Worry suppresses your immune system, generates cortisol (which creates inflammation). Exercise. Sleep well. Smile and laugh as much and as often as possible.
Oh — and before I forget — don’t drink excessive alcohol. This is a hard one for me. I’ve had a decades-long habit of self-medicating with alcohol during times of stress. Alcohol suppresses our immune function. So, as much as you’d like to sit back and drink away your worries during this admittedly scary and stressful time, try as much as possible to avoid it. While it might numb your worries, ultimately it reduces your body’s ability to defend itself against infection.
And that’s what we want to avoid at all costs.
Much love to you all. Be safe. Wash your hands. Physically distance and socially support those you love.