The COVID-19 pandemic has gotten many people thinking about their immune system, and how well equipped their body is for fighting pathogens. The body's immune system, of course, is the complex integration of multiple body systems (circulatory, lymphatic, integumentary, etc.) which collectively fight and protect against foreign antigens and pathogens in our bodies. In today's episode, Robert Santana (PhD, dietitian, and Starting Strength Coach) returns to the podcast to discuss ways that you can build a more robust immune system.
As Coach D and Trent have mentioned numerous times on the podcast, training and genetics influence ALL of the body's processes, and the immune system is no exception. Some people have more robust immune systems than others due to their genetics, but even those with suboptimal genetics can optimize the expression of their genes through physical training. Nutrition and lifestyle also play a crucial role in fostering a healthy immune system.
It's common sense, but a diet rich in whole foods helps build a strong immune system. As Robert explains, whole foods -- particularly fruits, vegetables, and grass-fed beef or wild-caught fish -- contain anti-oxidative micronutrients which keep inflammation at bay. The typical American diet, on the other hand, which is full of processed, pro-inflammatory foods, creates a drag on the immune system, leaving it less able to fight off foreign bugs... like COVID-19.
Eating a serving of fruit or vegetables with every meal (3-5 times per day) will ensure you have adequate vitamins and minerals and maintain healthy balances of pro- and anti-oxidative nutrients. Healthy fats are important, too, as the hydrogenated oils used in many processed foods have an abundance of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids. Highly quality meats, fish, and nuts or seeds are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, on the other hand, so eating a lot of these foods ensures a healthy Omega 3 to 6 ratio.
Lifestyle is another important factor. Getting enough sleep and avoiding psychological stressors helps manage cortisol levels, which in turn influence inflammation in the body. Of course, in these times of great societal disruption it's difficult NOT to be stressed, but doing what you can to eliminate unnecessary stressors -- excessive use of cell phones and digital media, social media consumption, etc -- can help.
If you need help dialing in your nutrition, you can consult Robert via his website Weights and Plates. You can also follow him on Instagram @the_robert_santana.
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