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Local doctors share advice on how to keep your immune system strong as the weather cools.
Eating too much and exercising too little? Pressed for time and space because your family is home all the time? You’re not alone. But this fall and winter, having strong immune health is essential. We asked local doctors for their advice on staying healthy despite COVID-19 restrictions.
Pamper Your Immune System
Alcohol may be great for hand sanitizer, but it’s not great for the rest of your body. And flour-fueled baking sprees that produce homemade bread, pasta and sweets don’t look so sweet on the scale. Now it’s time to curb those appetites. At her Rosemont practice, functional medicine specialist Dr. Seema Bonney helps patients manage lifestyle factors that will improve their immune health. Proactive steps can even protect us against severe cases of COVID-19. “Eat well, exercise and get quality sleep,” Bonney says. “It’s not new advice, but it’s important now more than ever. It’s not optional. It’s essential.”
Dr. Kelli Yacono agrees. An internal medicine practitioner at Innovative Medical and Aesthetics in Bryn Mawr, Yacono preaches the same “food is medicine” gospel. An advocate of the keto diet and intermittent fasting, she lost 11 pounds from March to August. “There are ways to feel full and satisfied without overeating,” says Yacono.
Bonney’s favorite foods include nuts, seeds, plant-based proteins, fatty fish, and fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow. All are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid refined carbs, sugar, greasy foods, red meat, and highly processed foods with carcinogen-laced nitrates. And whatever you do, don’t drink soda. “It’s chemicals and sugars,” says Bonney. “Sugar can paralyze components of your immune system and build insolence resistance.”
With gyms functioning at reduced capacity, fitness lovers have to find alternatives. “I’ve been going to the gym since I was 15 years old, and I’ve had to pivot,” Bonney says. “I don’t have space for a home gym, so I’ve been doing a lot of outdoor exercise and finding options on YouTube and other platforms.”
It sounds like a lot to manage—and it is, especially for working moms. Yacono tells patients to schedule exercise time. “Put yourself on your calendar,” she says. “If it’s on your schedule, you’re more likely to do it. Then you can check it off and feel good about it.”
Bonney knows how overwhelming it’s been since the pandemic hit. She has three young kids. “Mindfulness and meditation are really essential to balance our stress,” Bonney says. “But quiet time is in very short supply.”
Yacono has been doing a lot of mental health maintenance with her patients. “I’ve been encouraging them to focus on something they enjoy and make the time to do that,” Yacono says. “We are so bogged down with everything—especially with kids—that we need reprieves to get centered.”
Now that doing everything from home is the new normal, avoid neck, back and joint pain by investing in ergonomic chairs and desks. Start by making your computer monitor the appropriate height. “Head and eyes should be facing forward and not twisting,” says Dr. Kelly Scollon-Grieve, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist with Premier Orthopaedics in Havertown. “An adjustable standing desk is ideal and a great addition.”
Swap a desk chair for an exercise ball. Sitting on it engages the core and improves posture. Don’t sit on a dining room chair without a lumbar pillow. Or roll a towel and put it in small of your back. “Get up every 30 minutes and stretch,” says Scollon-Grieve. “Set an alarm to remind yourself.”
Scollon-Grieve wants people to get outside and walk every day—even for short time periods. Inside is the place for video workouts like yoga and Pilates to improve core strength. Use light weights (or even soup cans) to build strength. For folks with limited mobility, Scollon-Grieve suggests an inexpensive mini exercise bike, which can be purchased on Amazon. Pedal away while reading or watching TV.