There is an old saying, the baseball rule: “Never change a winning game, always change a losing one.” Is the COVID fight a losing game? Some states, and some nations, have done lockdowns and others have not. Some mandate mask wearing, others do not. The rate of infection is rising rapidly regardless of what we do. If our “game” is to lock down, socially isolate and wear masks, and if that game is a losing one, what can we add? Personal immunity!
As we age, our immunity suffers. Young people aren’t damaged much by COVID. Old people with health problems are highly at risk. But among old people, some are much healthier than others. Let’s think about why that would be.
Immunity through vaccination appears to be on the horizon. That will be a great way to finally achieve herd immunity. There is a minority view that vaccinations are dangerous. Some won’t comply. Even among those who do accept them, it will take time to administer the vaccine to millions, perhaps until June or July. What can you and I do to improve our chances in the meantime? You should continue to wear masks and keep your distance but that certainly is not enough. Since I am a psychologist, not an immunologist, I offer you evidence-based behaviors and attitudes that lengthen our lives and improve our immunity.
We are happy creatures. Happiness makes our immune system function better. In children, joy is natural. For us older folks, an excellent way to recapture that joy is practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude diary. Write three to five things each day you are glad about. Describe how they helped. Write short thank-you notes. Be grateful.
We are social creatures. We evolved to live in tribes, to have face-to-face contact with other people. We are biologically “wired” to keep track of around 150 people, plus or minus. We require face-to-face connection. Staying home and socially isolating actually hurts our immune system. We are healthier when we connect, we are less resistant to illness when we are alone. Who is healthy and safe? Connect with the people you are safe around.
We are spiritual creatures. This is certainly related to socializing. People who have a religion and practice it are healthier, they are happier and they live longer. People who have allegiance to a spiritual outlook, who adhere to high moral-ethical standards and who attend services reap significant health benefits. Religious practice helps.
We are contemplative creatures. People who meditate daily are healthier. Meditators benefit more from vaccination! They live longer and get sick much less frequently. People ask me what is the best meditation. It is the one you will do. Whether your practice is of one form or another is of very little importance. The value comes in practicing it daily.
We are active creatures. Sitting is the new smoking. Get up and move. Walk! Run like a child, dash here and there in short bursts, “interval training.” Exercise hard for 30 seconds, then actively rest (keep moving!) and then dash again. Weight lifting is also great. Active people are healthier.
We are generous creatures. When we give our time, money and effort to people in need, we become happier and healthier. Relying on government to help the needy short-circuits the benefit we get from personally helping. When governments offer lots of benefits and entitlements, individuals stop volunteering. Don’t fall for that! Volunteer to help others.
An immunologist would likely say there are other things you can do, like take extra vitamin D and zinc. I appreciate that advice. I am not opposed to masks, I wear them, but the actual research on masks is not that inspiring. I wear them to be polite and hope they help. Frequent hand washing is of value. Distance from others helps. But what if it turns out that all the government tells us to do doesn’t work all that well? Then boosting your own immunity is a great addition. You might be able to stay healthy until the vaccinations arrive and we get herd immunity that way. May I challenge you to try these immunity-supporting attitudes and actions? Even if you get sick, enhancing your immunity means you might recover faster, at least shifting the odds into your favor.