With the current status of the world’s health and just about every news outlet discussing concepts such as “flattening the curve” and “social distancing”, I think it’s a good time to discuss just how important our preparation now will be for the implications of future pandemics, disease, and perhaps most importantly, preventable cardiovascular, metabolic, and pulmonary (CMP) disease. I completely understand that we have bigger fish to fry right now as a general public and as a country, but I think it would be downright harmful to not shed some light on the negative implications of encountering a viral attack while also dealing with the likes of diseases such as Hypertension, Diabetes, Heart Disease, or COPD, to name a few.
We’ve all probably heard the phrase, especially in the sports world, that “the best defense is a good offense”. However, when it comes to the immune response, this saying is perhaps more applicable than it ever has been or will be for any athletic endeavor. Sticking with the sports arena (since we are all having to watch things like the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals or Christian Laettner hitting that shot against Kentucky again, instead of live sports), imagine a soccer goalie standing in front of her regulation size goal. Up walks an opponent looking to score, and under normal circumstances, could reasonably expect an up to 75% likelihood of scoring. This situation, however, isn’t normal. The goalie suddenly shrinks down to the size of a flamingo lawn ornament, and the goal itself widens by about the width of the Mississippi river. Another strange thing, the penalty kicker multiplies by 1,000 and an additional 1,000 soccer balls are then subsequently rolled onto the turf. The likelihood of scoring by this newly spawned army of penalty kickers against the pathetic shrunken goalie, trying to defend a goal the size of one of Michael Jordan’s yachts, is now all but a guarantee.
Now, I want everyone reading this to replace the goalie with their own immune system, and replace the legion of penalty kickers with an onslaught of an infectious disease. It doesn’t have to be COVID-19, or even the seasonal flu, but what I do want it to be is a personification of something trying to infect you (or in this case, score on you). This situation is the sports equivalent of your immune system trying to defend your body from a foreign invader. Honestly, if your immune system is only composed of a single, undersized goalie, then one of those balls (viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc.) is getting through, and you’re more than likely getting sick.
What’s all of this sports talk having to do with immunity and your body’s immune response? What I’m getting at is that you can either exhaust your poor little goalie of an immune system by having her exhaustively running around to combat constant scoring attempts, or you can find a way to get her back to normal size (maybe a bit bigger, I’m thinking “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” size). Not only that, but maybe you could call in a favor at FIFA and have the goal reduced back to at least the 24 foot regulation size. The scenario I’ve described is what a lot of people are dealing with these days when it comes to battling illness. Far too much attention and money before this current pandemic was paid towards treatment focused options. Obviously, we all need these options, and they are saving copious amounts of human lives as I write this blog post. But rather than just encouraging everyones’ metaphorical goalies to “do their best” at defending an endless barrage of foreign invaders, shouldn’t more attention go towards how these goalies can attain some soccer super powers?
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
This is another saying that’s probably been heard by most of you reading this post, but just because something is cliche doesn’t mean it’s not true. Most of you who know me or have worked with me in the past, know that I am a firm believer in prevention over treatment. Again, I want to be clear that I am not promoting prevention instead of treatment, as it would be a huge mistake to discount the importance that treatment options have for the health and safety of us all, especially at a time like now. What I am trying to proclaim from the virtual mountaintops is that through adequate exercise, sleep, stress management, and dietary patterns, most of us can give our immune systems a little reinforcement before having to resort to the treatment options.
The CDC announced in a recent release of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that the (at that time) hospitalization rate was 4.6 per 100,000 people. Of those people admitted to hospitals, almost 90% (89.3% to be exact) had at least one underlying condition. That being said, things can change quickly, but this has been a global trend for the duration that reliable data has been being compiled for this particular disease. Many people I know and care for deeply suffer from several of these underlying conditions, but if this brief look into how this illness can negatively impact those with cardiovascular, metabolic, or pulmonary disease doesn’t give our country the metaphorical kick in the pants it needs regarding the importance of preventative measures, I don’t know what will.
Unfortunately there will always be something out there, lurking, and evolving to outsmart our immunity, which is why it is so imperative to address our own immune response at a personal level. If you’re reading this and wondering what you can do to “help”, I can tell you that the changes you make now will not only better prepare you, but better prepare those who don’t have the luxury to simply sleep more or eat more fruits and vegetables in order to amp up their immune response. Anything you can do to avoid being on the above bar graph in the future will greatly increase your chances of surviving not just the next pandemic (because, not to sound alarmist, there will be a next) but bouts against the seasonal flu, bacterial infection, fungal infection, and or any other kind of infection as well.
Four Spokes of the Wellness Wheel
If you’re like me, and would rather have someone spell it out than rely on inference, follow the below suggestions most of the time, and you’ll be off to one hell of a start at supersizing your goalie, ahem, immune response.
- Sleep– In a world that deprioritizes sleep, make it YOUR priority and strive to attain at least 7-8 hours a night.
- Dietary Patterns– Consume a diet composed of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and water, most of the time.
- Exercise– Strive to attain at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each and every week. The best kind of exercise is firstly the one you enjoy doing.
- Stress– Don’t take on too much, meditate, be grateful for what you have, and be nice to a stranger (and your significant other, of course).
There isn’t any magic pill or potion in existence (that we know of yet) that will give you and your health the bang for your buck that following these four things can provide. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander, so while following stay-at-home orders, try to set the tone for your entire family. These recommendations are based on the scientific consensus so please, until years of new research and thousands of data points emerge to state definitively that you should put your efforts elsewhere, follow these guidelines.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw a little extra love in there for the importance of exercise, since I’m, you know, a personal trainer and all. Exercise helps our immunity in many ways, but perhaps the most important is through the mobilization of natural killer cells. The nuts and bolts of this process is that when we work out, whether it be a walk/run 5k, a 30 minute interval workout, or walking up and down the five flights of stairs at work several times, these natural killer cells (scary name, admittedly, and those potential infections should be scared) start circulating throughout the bloodstream. They inevitably make their way to sites of inflammation and seek out unwanted pathogens and/or damaged cells to help the best that they can.
The only time when exercise (especially moderate-high intensity) should probably be replaced by additional sleep and hydration, is when your body is actively fighting off infection or actually infected with something. The last thing your body needs when it is fending off a bacterial boogeyman is a high intensity workout that can potentially add another stressor to the allostatic load. Nothing can you bring you back to life more quickly than a good night’s sleep, and no, you can’t “sweat out an illness”.
The Bottom Line
Circling back to the main point of this article, I want to implore all of us to refocus our efforts. Not at avoiding the unavoidable thing of occasionally being under the weather, but to amp up our own respective immunities. Do yourself and humanity a favor, address your immune system by getting your goalie to the weight room, and don’t forget to “shrink your goal” by washing your hands.
Yours in Wellness,