Psalm 91:6-7 says, “Do not dread the disease that stalks in the darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you.” Does this sound familiar, like the COVID-19 pandemic? I know that with prayer and our knowledge of prevention and treatment of disease, we can avoid death from these evils in most cases.
COVID-19 is the current problem we’ve been facing, but the possibility of contracting other respiratory viruses is still high. When I have a patient exhibiting respiratory symptoms and a high fever, I frequently order a “respiratory panel” to evaluate for 20 different viruses and the possibility that the patient is infected with one or more.
Two key ways to protect yourself from infectious diseases are 1) immunizations and 2) taking steps to optimize your physical condition. Below are nine recommendations I give to my patients to “power up their immunity” against COVID-19 and other viruses:
1. Exercise: Any type of sustained physical activity as short as 30 minutes several times a week can have beneficial effects on protecting us against severe COVID infections. An article titled “Physical Inactivity Is Associated With a Higher Risk for Severe COVID-19 Outcomes,” published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at a study of 48,440 adult patients diagnosed with COVID-19. A definite relationship existed between their physical activity and risk of hospitalization and death, proving exercise can power up your immunity. The researchers concluded that “consistently meeting the physical activity guidelines was strongly associated with the reduced risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes among infected adults. We recommend efforts to promote physical activity be prioritized by public health agencies and incorporated into routine medical care.”
2. Sleep: Sleep is also a very important factor in improving immunity against disease. Lack of sleep and associated fatigue can have a harmful effect on your immune system. You need at least seven hours per night. Recent studies show people who sleep less than five hours per night have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. And regular exercise will make it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.
3. Risk factors: When a large number of people in New York City were hospitalized with COVID-19 infections, the top risk factor was age, and the second was obesity. These risk factors were more important than comorbid conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, underlying pulmonary problems and even cancer.
4. Obesity: Knowing your body mass index (BMI) is key for a healthy immune system. To determine your BMI requires the following calculations: Weight in pounds/height in inches squared x 703 = BMI. Or just search BMI calculator online and enter your height and weight, and your BMI will be calculated for you. Normal is less than 25, overweight is 26-30, obese is 30-35 and morbidly obese is above 35. It is now estimated that up to 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. Following these simple guidelines—with small changes on a consistent basis—could decrease that figure dramatically.
5. Nutrition: A well-balanced diet containing all of the food groups fuels a strong immune system and reduces the risk of chronic illness and infectious disease. Eat a minimum of five fruits and vegetables a day—and my recommendation to my patients is “five is fine, nine is divine.” I also recommend the Mediterranean diet as one of the best for preventing multiple medical problems. Staying hydrated is another essential factor in immune support, to keep internal organs functioning properly and protect you from acute and chronic diseases.
6. Supplementation: I cannot emphasize enough the important role vitamin D plays in preventing or at least diminishing the severity of COVID-19 infections. I recommend consuming at least 2,000 international units (50 micrograms) or 4,000 international units (100 micrograms) daily. Vitamin C 500 mg and zinc 15 mg are also very important.
7. Limit alcohol: Consuming too much alcohol can certainly bring down your immunity as well as contribute to many other diseases. One study from the British medical journal The Lancet showed if men drink two alcoholic beverages per day, or 14 drinks per week, it can decrease their life expectancy by 1.5-2 years. I do not encourage alcohol consumption and do not drink it myself—but if you do, limit it to no more than seven drinks per week for either men or women.
8. Tobacco-free environment: Refrain from using tobacco in any form. There is no way you can safely use tobacco, and avoiding even secondhand smoke is very important. If you do use tobacco in any form, you should make a major effort to stop or cut down your intake per day. Tobacco is the most important thing to avoid if you want to boost your immunity.
9. Manage stress: One study showed people under stress have an increased risk of coming down with a respiratory infection such as a cold, due to increased levels of cortisol—which is one of the body’s stress responses that drops your immunity. Keep in mind, spending excess time on social media has been shown to increase stress levels and reduce immunity, so limit your exposure. Remember what the Apostle Paul said about stress—“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11). Even in periods of great stress, he said, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
If you are not practicing these immune-boosting measures, it is important to start immediately in order to avoid infectious diseases. There will be other viruses in the future, and what you do now may protect you not only from coming down with one, but even from dying during a pandemic! Your health is your responsibility—not your physician’s, your insurance company’s or the government’s. Do not die of something that could be prevented! And remember, regular physical activity is the foundation of any good preventive medicine program. Perhaps we should follow the recommendations found in Habakkuk 3:19: “The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (NKJV). ©2021 Kenneth H. Cooper
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, ©1996, 2004, 2007 Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois. The Scripture quotation marked NKJV is taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Kenneth H. Cooper is known worldwide as “the father of aerobics.” He is the founder and chairman of Cooper Aerobics in Dallas and chairman emeritus of The Cooper Institute.