Here We Go Again….Tis the Season
September….it's not only Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) awareness month but it is also leading into cold and flu season. We ran a portion of this article during Covid season and it's still relevant today.
And for those of us with a SCI or any other disability, we may be at added risk if we are not able to produce a cough strong enough to clear the mucus from our lungs. Cold, flu, COVID, pneumonia, RSV, any of these issues can put our immune system under stress leaving us more vulnerable to these bugs.
We are here to focus on what we can do to stay healthy if we do come face to face with any of these illnesses and what we can do to build up the strongest immune system possible to fight it right now.
Here are some things you can do for yourself:
Snooze so you don’t lose! Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. During sleep, your immune system releases proteins that can boost your ability to fight infections. Adults should aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night. We are aware of how elusive sleep can be for many of us with SCI but attempt to get some uninterrupted shut-eye.
Exercise regularly (not on the couch) and participate in activities that you enjoy. Moderate exercise improves blood circulation which gives a boost to the immune system and releases those "feel good" endorphins. And don't forget to include some stretching daily. For those of us with a SCI, this may help to calm spasms, reduce swelling in our legs and feet, and make us overall more comfortable sitting in our wheelchairs for the day. A big plus for both your physical and mental health.
Remember to laugh. Comedy movies and light-hearted shows offer a nice distraction as long as they don’t continue for hours. Start each day with a joke. Ask Alexa or Google Home to “tell me a joke.” Laughter is the best medicine!
Manage your stress level. If stress drags on for a long time, it exposes your body to a steady stream of stress hormones that suppress the immune system and make you more vulnerable to illness. When possible, take a break from the stressor. You will feel less overwhelmed. Deep breathing, yoga, exercising, laughing, meditation, or talking with a friend are other activities that may help lower your stress levels.
Drink, drink, drink! Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance and body functions, focus, and mood. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness. To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Avoid sugary drinks and sodas. Water is recommended because it’s free of calories, additives, and sugar.
Eat healthy. Focus on foods with nutrients that can help boost your immune system.
Food sources include brightly colored fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, mangoes, red bell peppers, winter squash, tomatoes, dark leafy greens like spinach, eggs, vitamin A fortified foods like milk and cereal, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and a vitamin that helps heal wounds, repair and maintain healthy bones, and make antibodies to fight off illness. Food sources of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, kiwi, strawberries, red and green bell peppers, mangos, summer squash, dark leafy greens, and papayas.
Vitamin D is very important for bone health, but it's also very important to the immune system because it may help fight off bacteria and viruses. Vitamin D can be absorbed through sun exposure. Aim for small amounts of sun exposure daily to get Vitamin D, but make sure you wear sunscreen. Vitamin D is also found in salmon, mackerel, egg yolks, some cheeses, mushrooms, and fortified vitamin D products like milk, cereals, juices, and yogurts. The sunshine just makes you feel good.
Vitamin E is another antioxidant that may support immunity through the protection of cell damage. Food sources include vegetable oils like olive, sunflower, and canola oil, whole grains, seeds, nuts and butter, wheat germ, avocados, and olives.
Zinc supports the immune system through its healing properties and helps to prevent and fight viral and bacterial infections. Zinc can be found in lean beef, seafood, poultry, milk products, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts.
Protein is key for healing (pressure sores) and recovery, therefore making it important for your overall immune health. Healthy protein sources include lean cuts of red and white meats, seafood and shellfish, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, nuts and butter, seeds, dairy, and whole grains. And don't forget to practice proper portion control on those snacks.
Now that you have some ideas to prepare your bodies for fight mode, it's time to give some thought to your environment and the importance of keeping it germ-free. Are you still washing your hands for 20 seconds and keeping your hands away from your face? A healthy habit should be handwashing before any food prep, after bathroom visits, after opening delivered mail, after pumping gas, or first thing when you get back home. And if you can't wash your hands keep hand sanitizer available as a backup. And what about that cell phone? Does it ever get cleaned? A recent article stated, “Americans check their cell phones 52 times a day.” If we are checking our phones 52 times a day, that means we are touching our phones 52 times a day. Wow! That’s a lot of touching.
That said, disinfecting should occur more than once a day or at the very least once every few days when we think of it. The article went on to state that phone disinfecting can be done using Clorox wipes or if using an alcohol-based (70% isopropyl) disinfectant spray, be sure your device is powered down and unplugged, then use a microfiber cloth to clean the screen. Maybe even do a bit of deep breathing to keep those lungs in good working health so they don’t revolt when we need them during an illness. Deep Breathing.edited.docx
Again, prevention is your best defense.
It’s all good, so keep on rollin,’ stay safe and healthy, and don't forget to wash your hands!!
Patty, BSN, RN
The Rollin’ RN ™