How to Strengthen Your Immune System During a Pandemic

By Tracy Williams

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an alarming time because, as a disabled person, even if you personally follow all precautions you may still get the virus from family members or caregivers who visit you in the home to help you accomplish your activities of daily living on a daily basis. Some folks with disabilities may struggle with being immunocompromised, while others are blessed with a strong immune system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that COVID-19 equals 556,003 deaths while there are 30,580,072 cases overall.

Penn Medicine says that chronic stress may impact the immune system by experiencing too many colds or not having robust digestive system built up. Wound healing from pressure sores may be slower with a weaker immune system. Folks with disabilities may also have secondary conditions, like hormone conditions, lung conditions, diabetes or heart disease, which impacts the immune system and may increase the chances of catching the COVID-19 virus.

Immune System and the Pandemic: getting exercise to build up immune system

Building Your Immune System

It might be a proactive decision to schedule a telehealth appointment with your primary care doctor or a local registered dietitian if you have questions about how to boost your immune system during the pandemic. Jeryln Jones, MS, MPA, RDN, LD, CLT, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages her clients to focus on nutrient-rich fruits and veggies as various sources of protein that bring amino acids from fish and legumes. Nutrients, like vitamin A, C, D and zinc does modify the body's response to build, improve and combat an invasive bacterium as well as a virus. Many dietitians urge their clients to consume a balanced diet. Vitamin A comes from sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna, squash and spinach. Vitamin C comes from berries and citrus fruits. Vitamin D comes from salmon, fortified milk, milk substitutes, tuna and eggs. Zinc comes from beef, tofu, lentils, yogurt and oatmeal.

Ms. Jones likes to advocate for probiotics and prebiotics to endorse what might improve the digestive system to impact immunity. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics endorses prebiotics as sources of fiber that build helpful bacteria in the human body. Probiotics comes from fermented foods like miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi. Prebiotics comes from onions, leeks, dandelion, asparagus, banana, garlic, chicory root and barley. Many dietitians persuade their clients to participate in a regular eating schedule, without skipping meals, as well as drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Ms. Jones likes to promote fiber to boost our immune cells as well as antibodies. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends fiber to assist people in lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes and digestive issues. There are a few sources of high fiber foods like pears with skin, raspberries, avocados, almonds, black beans, popcorn as well as barley. The advised quantity of dietary fiber is 14 grams for every 1,000 calories per day, or about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men each day. Your exact needs may differ based on personal energy needs. Some folks with disabilities who are part-time or full-time wheelchair users may also need to use a laxative to be on a healthy bowel schedule to limit constipation risk. A person's immune system can always be fortified or strengthened by a nutritious and balanced diet.

Meal Planning and Healthy Take-Out Choices

Most consumers need to keep their personal schedule even during the pandemic quarantine if they need to protect themselves from the virus if they have a disability or chronic conditions. People with disabilities may be freelance writers or have the opportunity to use their leadership skills in volunteer work or as an entrepreneur at any level. They may be busy even in quarantine just like anybody else during this pandemic.

Healthy meals and immune system. Photo of healthy salmon.

It is crucial to choose meals that are easily prepared when people feel rushed in their schedule. Save meals and recipes that take longer for the days that individuals have off. People can also prepare meals in advance to heat and serve on demanding days. Ms. Jones likes to advise her clients to create a menu at the start of the week to know how to write their grocery list. She loves to inspire her clients to find recipes that focus on all five food groups, and a variety of foods, like fruits, veggies, poultry, fish, legumes, low fat dairy and whole grains.

Nutrition can still come from shelf-stable foods. Sometimes canned food is more healthful than fresh choices, because fruits and veggies are canned right after harvesting. Consumers may be concerned about sodium content of canned veggies, so many dietitians reassure clients to focus on finding low-sodium or no salt added to diminish sodium intake. Likewise, many dietitians comfort their clients about their fruit choices by focusing on canned or packaged fruit in 100% juice instead of heavy or light syrups.

During the pandemic, purchasing take-out is the best way to support a local restaurant. Ms. Jones likes to counsel clients on how to choose healthier options by paying attention to particular words, like grilled, baked, steamed or broiled rather than anything fried. Focus on fruits, side veggies, salads, broth soups instead of fried options. People may find it challenging to increase fiber when they are ordering take-out. Dietitians like to suggest to their clients to pick out 100% whole wheat bread or hamburger bun, or brown rice. Consumers can choose to increase fiber content by adding lettuce and tomatoes to a chicken sandwich or burger. Focus on water or unsweetened tea instead of soda, lemonade or juice drink as a hydration option. Eating meals from restaurants can be hard to keep healthy and nutritious, but not impossible.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress During a Pandemic

Folks with disabilities may be very terrified to live through a pandemic, because more often than not, we are all high risk for getting the virus due to secondary chronic conditions. We may be fearful because some of us may be living in isolation to keep ourselves safe. Make sure to connect with your primary care doctor or specialists through telehealth or in person with safety precautions to stay healthy and strong. It is crucial to take care of our mental health by receiving support services through telehealth therapy with a licensed counselor if you are struggling. Focusing on your emotional health with help will aide you in thinking openly about with the support of friends and family.

Talking to your doctor during telemedicine session

It is critical to take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including complicated stories on social media. Focusing on the pandemic constantly can be distressing. Find ways to have meditation practice, while finding ways to move your body in the ways you can do so safely. The priority should be to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, even if you need help with your pain management. Find ways to unwind, by getting involved in accessible hobbies. Schedule times to do Zoom sessions with family and friends. Connect with your community or faith-based organizations on either Zoom or Facebook Live.

We can make numerous lifestyle and dietary changes today to fortify our immune system. These include decreasing your added sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly in accessible ways. Other goals would be to get enough sleep, while handling stress levels in manageable ways.


About the Author:

Tracy Williams has her degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University. She enjoys partnering with disability organizations and conventions for speaking engagements on nutrition. She enjoys partnering with suburban Chicago park districts, rotary clubs, libraries, schools and some non-profit organizations. She enjoys doing some blogging for other registered dietitians as well. She is beginning her freelance writing journey with Push Living. You can connect with her at her website Please feel free to contact her if you have any nutrition questions. She loves to debunk any basic nutrition myths.

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