Drink plenty of water, get your ZZZs and cook with mushrooms, leeks and garlic.
Get up and move, even if it’s just playing with the dog outside. Watch a comedy or meditate to manage stress. And don’t even think about picking up those cigarettes.
Those a few of the moves you can make to improve your odds if you’re hit by COVID-19, doctors and nutrition experts say.
The U.S. and other countries are trying to immunize people as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but the rollout will last well into the year. Meanwhile, people waiting their turn for a vaccine are skittish about infection. The novel coronavirus that spread around the world last year has infected 26.3 million and killed almost 443,000 Americans.
Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said people ask him “all the time” how to avoid a severe bout of COVID-19.
“I always say, ‘One’s health begins before the disease.’ I would encourage people now to have healthy patterns and lifestyles,” he said.
Scientists say there are several ways to improve immunity so the body can mount an appropriate response to the coronavirus or other threats to health.
“This begins with sleep. I think that’s one that gets missed in this a lot,” said Chris D’Adamo, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
People create a lot of immune cells while sleeping, he said, so now isn’t the time to be sacrificing shut-eye.
Stress also can impair immunity, so activities such as yoga, breathing exercises and even watching a fun TV show can help.
Eating a balanced diet of whole foods that aren’t overprocessed or loaded with hydrogenated oils is key. Mushrooms have beta-glucans, which boost immune function. Alliums — think onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, leeks — can bolster flavor and immunity at the same time.
COVID-19 is a serious respiratory disease, so “smoking is definitely bad,” said Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine.
“Vaping? You don’t want to do that,” he said.
Building good immune health is about creating balance, or what Mr. D’Adamo calls the “Goldilocks zone.” Many COVID-19 patients die when their immune systems go into overdrive and release inflammatory proteins in what is known as a cytokine storm.
“Finding that sweet spot of optimal function is key because excessive immunity is all immunity — you start to attack your cells. Not enough immunity means you can get sick and die from lots of things,” Mr. D’Adamo said.
Experts say, though, that physical distancing and mask-wearing are still the best ways to avoid infection.
Data suggests COVID-19 cases are most severe in older people, though medical conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes increase vulnerability.
Sales of the stationary bikes soared last year as people stayed home, ditched their gym memberships and tried to avoid excess pounds dubbed the “COVID 15.”
Experts say anything that gets people up and moving will improve immune health and survival rates, even if the activity is as simple as walking around the neighborhood.
But Dr. Galiatsatos said people who are infected shouldn’t try to shed pounds. “Weight loss should begin weeks before anyone is infected,” he said.
In terms of supplements, experts say vitamin D can modulate immune health and control inflammation. Studies have suggested a link between severe COVID-19 cases and vitamin D deficiency.
The sun is a common source of vitamin D. Many people don’t get enough of the vitamin because of their latitude or their diets, so supplements are common.
Maintaining healthy levels of zinc — found in meat, oysters, nuts and other foods — can contribute to immune health and might even inhibit the replication of RNA viruses.
Experts say they would like to see more research on using zinc is as a treatment for COVID-19. It has been a source of debate, and some doctors say adding zinc beyond what is needed for normal body functions won’t make a difference.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned companies about touting zinc products and other supplements as straight-up cures for COVID-19.
Mr. Caplan advised being wary of vitamin supplement pitches that seem too good to be true. “It’s just unproven, wild claims, usually by people trying to make money,” he said.