As many of us are following the Government’s advice to stay at home, keeping our energy levels up becomes increasingly difficult as the weeks go by. NHD Blogger and third-year Nutrition student, Weronika Waraksa, considers how to boost the immune system and improve energy with nutrition.
Last week, the UK Government instructed us that we must remain in lockdown for yet another three weeks due to Covid-19.1 There is no doubt that a drastic change to our routines can completely throw us off kilter, so don’t feel guilty if you have been struggling. It’s completely normal!
Increased stress and anxiety have been shown to change our eating and sleep habits. Some people may over-eat and others may under-eat, depending on the individual’s response to stress.2 Perhaps you are finding yourself snacking on energy-dense foods such as crisps, sweets and chocolate more than usual, or not eating proper meals and struggling to concentrate on your work? All this, plus the poor quality of sleep many of us have been experiencing (quarantine nightmares anyone?)3 has had an impact not only on our energy and concentration levels but also on how good we feel about ourselves in our daily lives.
In times of stress, it can be really hard to take care of ourselves. But to help our mental and physical health, there are a few simple guidelines we can follow to hopefully feel better.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS
Having nightmares? Lying awake in the early hours?
Research has shown that many of us are collectively suffering from daily (or nightly) nightmares or interrupted sleep. This can leave us feeling tired and groggy throughout the day, making it hard to concentrate on daily tasks. Whilst there is not much we can do to completely prevent this as light sleep is our brain’s adaptive response to stress,4 we can try to improve our sleep ‘hygiene’.5 The NHS suggests the following for helping us fall asleep faster:6
- light relaxation exercises, such as yoga
- gentle soothing music
- avoiding electronic devices for at least an hour before going to bed
- keeping the bedroom dark at night and relatively cool
Too much coffee, not enough veg?
Limiting caffeine intake in the afternoon, eating at regular times (usually every two to three hours but this can vary) and eating at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day, may all help.7 Remember that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables do count towards our five a day and can be especially helpful during this time, as they are quick and easy. They can also reduce trips to the supermarket as they last unopened for a long time.
Feeling like a couch potato?
Staying active by taking a break away from the sofa or the desk can be really helpful in increasing energy levels and concentration throughout the day. How about scheduling in a morning walk to begin the day with fresh air and a ‘commute’ and then taking regular breaks to do some stretches, or perhaps trying out a new online exercise class in the afternoon?8
‘BOOSTING’ THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
With a global pandemic going on, it is completely understandable that many of us are thinking of ways we can boost our immune system. After all, no one wants to get the virus! You may have seen advertised posts from supplement companies or from social media influencers on which supplements can ‘boost’ our immunity and what’s best to eat. NHD contributors are often highlighting the dangers of unqualified social media influencers. As dietitians and nutritionists, we know that there is no evidence that a single food or supplement can boost immunity! Not even vitamin C.9 But, even though we can’t boost our immune system, we can certainly help to support it by:
- getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night);
- drinking enough water;
- taking part in some form of physical activity;
- eating a varied diet containing wholegrains, pulses and lots of colourful fruits and vegetables.
The World Health Organisation has a useful guide on ‘food and nutrition tips during self-quarantine’.10
Even though no single supplement is recommended over another for immunity, the British Dietetic Association does recommend those who may not be getting enough sunshine over the coming weeks to continue taking a vitamin D supplement (10mcg per day), as it may not always be possible to obtain the necessary amount from food (oily fish, egg yolks, fortified foods such as cereals, plant milks and margarines).11 However, the two main things to do to help protect ourselves from the virus, of course, are washing our hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds and staying at home where reasonably possible.8
THE TAKE HOME MESSAGE
A healthy balanced diet, which includes lots of colourful fruits and vegetables, plus regular exercise and a regular eating schedule and sleep routine, can help to ease some stress and anxiety during self-isolation, and, in turn, will help to improve wellbeing and energy levels. Remember to make time to take care of yourself, cook some tasty meals and get some much-needed fresh air, which does wonders for mental and physical health. Stay safe and well.
3rd year Nutrition BSc (Hons) student at Liverpool John Moores University
Ronnie has a keen interest in the non-diet approach to nutrition and sustainable diets.
- BBC News (2020). UK Lockdown Extended For 'At Least' Three Weeks. [online] Available at: www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52313715
- Yau YH and Potenza MN (2013). Stress and eating behaviours. Minerva endocrinologica, 38(3), 255–267
- Huffington Post (2020). How To Stop Coronavirus Nightmares From Ruining A Good Night’s Sleep. [online] Available at: www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/how-to-sleep-during-coronavirus-anxiety_uk_5e7c91a2c5b6cb08a928a744?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAC4XkCsY4KJCqzJgIDZqlXxiAsqwaimPuBztG2lHPB3QO9xjbzKYHy4EJm5D3gPpnZZQUQfzyOaQQci0Dp8ZIKgvLW4z7irvR78_3WDVr3CgN46jhOEs6alohQSW5y1pgGyG7HQ85jqA80kS3rwrAdYNIylqQYbZgDvKuj5vas55
- Nunn C, Samson D and Krystal A (2016). Shining evolutionary light on human sleep and sleep disorders. Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2016(1), 227-243
- Jansson-Fröjmark M, Evander J and Alfonsson S (2018). Are sleep hygiene practices related to the incidence, persistence and remission of insomnia? Findings from a prospective community study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 42(1), 128-138
- NHS (2020). How To Get To Sleep. [online] Available at: www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/
- NHS (2020). The Energy 'Diet'. [online] Available at: www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/the-energy-diet/
- EUFIC (2020). How To Keep Healthy While In Isolation Or Quarantine (COVID-19): (EUFIC). [online] Available at: www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/7-tips-to-keep-healthy-while-in-isolation-or-quarantine-covid-19
- EUFIC (2020). Food And Coronavirus (COVID-19): What You Need To Know: (EUFIC). [online] Available at: www.eufic.org/en/food-safety/article/food-and-coronavirus-covid-19-what-you-need-to-know
- The WHO (2020). Food And Nutrition Tips During Self-Quarantine. [online] Available at: www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-emergencies/coronavirus-covid-19/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-technical-guidance/food-and-nutrition-tips-during-self-quarantine
- BDA (2020). COVID-19 / Coronavirus – Advice For The General Public. [online] Available at: www.bda.uk.com/resource/covid-19-corona-virus-advice-for-the-general-public.html