Specifically, I’ve been paying close attention to seven lifestyle issues – nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep, smoking, alcohol and sun – which can promote one’s defences against infection.
First and foremost, I am paying careful attention to what I eat.
Choose fresh, unprocessed foods
Ultra-processed foods high in sugar, starch and vegetable oils are off the menu.
Instead, choose unprocessed foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, non-starchy vegetables, berries, nuts and olive oil.
I drink water, milk, coffee and green tea with an occasional glass of wine or beer. If I am having beer I will choose one of the low-carbohydrate varieties. I avoid soft drinks, fruit juices, flavoured milks and energy drinks.
I also avoid the temptation to get meals delivered, instead focusing on home-cooked meals.
Food is fuel
Breakfast is either full-fat Greek yoghurt with a mixture of nuts and seeds topped with cinnamon, or cooked eggs with a combination of bacon, mushrooms, smoked salmon and avocado.
Lunch is a salad, or simply some nuts and cheese. The evening meal is meat or fish and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, green beans and cauliflower. If I’m craving pasta, I will use zucchini noodles (‘zoodles’), and have my curries on a bed of cauliflower rice, in an effort to avoid starchy foods high in carbohydrates.
Dessert is a bowl of fresh berries with some cream and a small square of dark chocolate.
Move, every day
I take a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes daily. In addition, I will do a high-intensity session on my stationary exercise bike three times a week. This lasts for eight minutes with 30-second maximal effort followed by 30-second rest. Finally, I finish with a series of body weight strengthening exercises – push ups, sit ups, squats and burpees.
Connect, connect, connect
To control my stress levels during this period, I try to do things I genuinely enjoy like spending time with family, reading and listening to podcasts.
I get outside in the sunshine for at least 30 minutes each day for some breathing exercises and to clear my mind.
I am also trying to actively stay connected with my different communities (work, sport, family, friends) with regular phone calls, FaceTime and Zoom meetings.
People who smoke are generally at higher risk of respiratory tract infections and there is growing evidence to suggest they may also be at higher risk of COVID-19.
Sleep is essential to better health. In order to get to bed earlier, I avoid food and screens in the late evening and I am increasing my usual 5-6 hours to 7-8 hours a night.
I am always asked what supplements I am taking. My general answer to that question is ‘none, I get my vitamins and minerals from real food’. Doctors generally tend to be somewhat sceptical about the claims of various vitamins.
However, in my reading around the topic of immunity and specifically preventing viral infections, I have found sufficient, albeit not overwhelming evidence that certain compounds may help bolster immunity. So I am taking daily doses of Vitamin C, zinc, quercetin and elderberry. While not conclusive, I believe the pros outweigh the cons given the side effects are virtually non-existent.
Peter Brukner is a sport and exercise medicine physician and Professor of Sports Medicine at La Trobe University