If ever there was a time to take New Year’s Resolutions seriously, going into 2021 would be it. There’s no guarantee that sticking with healthy habits will prevent you from contracting Covid-19. But statistics show that people with chronic diseases who aren’t managing their conditions are more likely to develop severe symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
With this in mind, here are 10 healthy habits for 2021 and the years to come.
#1: Take a Vitamin D3 Supplement
A high quality vitamin D3 supplement may literally be a matter of life or death. Data shows that people with a vitamin D deficiency or suboptimal levels were more likely to die of Covid-19 than those with adequate serum levels of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, most people are either outright deficient or have levels that are less than ideal. And this time of year, unless you live in Southern California, the Deep South, or Florida, the sun’s UV rays are too weak for your body to manufacture vitamin D.
And even if you do live in a warm climate, there’s a good chance you’re still not getting enough vitamin D.
That’s because you need to lay out in the sun—without applying sunscreen—for a minimum of 10-15 minutes if you’re fair-skinned; longer if you’re dark-skinned, with approximately two-thirds of your body exposed to direct sunlight.
Also, there are very few foods that are naturally high in vitamin D; it’s difficult to obtain from the diet alone.
Having a strong yet balanced immune system requires maintaining optimum vitamin D levels. The only way to know for sure what your vitamin D levels are is by getting a blood test, which you can order online and do from the comfort of your own home. Or, you can request a test from your physician. (But in all likelihood, you have low levels of vitamin D in your blood to start with.)
Several supplement companies sell bottles of vitamin D3 (D3 is the active form of vitamin D; D2 is the inert form) for less than $10. So there’s no excuse to be low in this critical nutrient, which is also essential for keeping bones, teeth and muscles strong.
Although the suggested daily dosage of vitamin D is 400 – 800 IUs daily, many health experts believe that if you have low levels, you should supplement with up to 5,000 IUs per day. Having sufficient levels of vitamin D may also keep the winter blues away.
#2: Get Enough Zinc Through Diet Or A Supplement
According to WebMD.com, the mineral, zinc, may play a role in coronavirus outcomes. Just as low levels of vitamin D is associated with worse hospitalized outcomes with COVID-19 so is zinc. WebMD says patients with low blood levels of zinc tended to fare worse than those with healthier levels because lower zinc levels at admission correlate with higher inflammation in the course of infection and poorer outcome.
Zinc is also believed to have anti-viral properties, meaning that it may prevent the spike protein of SARS-COV-2 from infecting the cells. However, there has been no definitive proof of zinc’s ability to prevent Covid infection.
Unlike vitamin D, obtaining zinc from the diet is easy. The best sources of the mineral include: red meat, oysters, beans, and nuts. If you’re getting zinc from red meat, moderate your intake (don’t eat steak everyday; once per week is more than enough) and try to eat meat that’s at least partially grass-fed and pasture-raised (not factory-farmed).
Zinc deficiency is rare in the developed countries, however, many people have trouble absorbing minerals for different reasons, including prescription medication, and poor gut health.
For this reason, taking a multivitamin with zinc may be appropriate. Like vitamin D, you can request a blood test to see if you have adequate levels of zinc. If you take a supplement, choose zinc picolinate or zinc gluconate for maximum absorption.
#3: Eat Foods With Prebiotic Fiber For Gut Health
Speaking of poor gut health, not having enough friendly bacteria in your colon can lead to a long laundry list of health problems, including inflammation and not being able to fight viruses and bacterial infections.
Your gut operates like a second brain. In fact, the human gut communicates with your brain via a continuous feedback loop. Just as the strength of a marriage is dependent on healthy communication, your overall health and mood depends on the level of communication between your gut and brain.
Most people think the easiest way to obtain good gut health is through probiotic supplements. But some probiotic supplements are a waste of money. And even if your probiotic supplement is of high quality, if you don’t eat enough foods that help fertilize your friendly bacteria, your probiotic supplement will indeed be a waste of money.
Without prebiotic fiber, your good bacteria wither away like dying flowers.
Therefore, next time you go to the supermarket, write this little shopping list of the best foods that feed your gut bacteria:
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Dandelion greens
- Raw garlic
- Raw Onions
- Asparagus (lightly steamed or raw)
- Green-tipped bananas
You can also cook non-GMO rice or pasta (eat in moderate portions as these foods elevate blood sugar levels) and leave them in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat. Doing this turns the carbohydrates into resistant starches. Resistant starches bypass the intestines and ferment in the colon into short-chain fatty acids, which act as prebiotic fiber.
If you’ve never heard of prebiotics, these friendly-bacteria fertilizers may very well turn out to be one of the biggest health trends of 2021.
#4: Manage Your Blood Sugar
Approximately 30 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. Tens of millions more are either diagnosed as having prediabetes, or are unaware that they have high blood sugar levels.
The good news about having type 2 diabetes is that you’re not necessarily more likely to contract Covid. However, if you do have type 2 diabetes with high blood sugar levels (in other words: you’re not managing blood sugar levels well) and contract the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, you’re more likely to develop severe symptoms.
With this in mind, follow these tips to keep blood sugar levels steady:
Resistance training 3 times per week
Less than 15% of people with type 2 diabetes are engaging in sufficient resistance training exercise. And that’s a shame because it’s one of the best ways to drive sugar out of the bloodstream.
Whether it’s doing push-ups on your knees or other forms of bodyweight exercises, or lifting dumbbells, you don’t need to pump iron like a professional bodybuilder to reap the benefits. Don’t have weights at home? Use milk cartons, water jugs, or other items in your home that can gently tax your muscles.
Look up videos online or rent a DVD from your local library if you’re not sure how to properly engage in resistance training.
Resistance training may be better for your blood sugar than taxing, cardiovascular exercise. But regardless of what form of exercise you choose to do, try to be active every single day.
Eat Larger Main Meals, Snack Less
For people without type 2 diabetes who want to manage weight, going 12-16 hours in between dinner and breakfast and not snacking between meals is often recommended. However, if you have type 2 diabetes, a little snack in between meals can prevent blood sugar levels from dipping too low.
That being said, however, many times, people don’t eat enough at lunch or dinner and consume too many snack foods. And let’s face it: most snack foods such as crackers, pretzels, etc., are simple carbohydrates, which quickly elevate blood sugar levels.
Therefore, during your main meals of the day, make sure you’re consuming enough healthy fats such as avocado, olives, nuts, olive oil, and seeds. Healthy fats help stabilize blood sugar levels.
If you do need a snack, eat a handful of nuts or seeds and a serving of fruit.
Taking advantage of apps and other technology makes it easier than ever before to continuously monitor your blood glucose levels. Use a food journal to fine tune and ultimately perfect your diet strategy. For example, are your blood sugar levels more steady when you’ve had a larger serving of fat and protein in comparison to carbs? Then that’s how you should eat at every meal.
#5: Deep Breathing
If there’s one organ that the world has been paying attention to more than ever, in 2020 it’s about the lungs. Research shows that performing deep breathing exercises enhances lung function. And the best part about deep breathing exercises is you can perform them without getting out of bed.
#6: Eat a Plant-Based Diet
You don’t have to give up meat altogether to be healthier. However, most Americans consume more animal protein than is necessary. Most people in advanced nations are overfed but undernourished, meaning we eat too many calories but don’t get enough nutrients. To be sure, wild game and pasture-raised meat are very rich in nutrients. But for most people that shop at big supermarkets, the best way to get enough nutrient-rich food is by eating a plant-based diet.
What is a plant-based diet? Think: fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of them. Throw in a moderate amount of healthy grains from non-starchy carbohydrates such as brown rice as well as beans, nuts and seeds.
And don’t forget edible mushrooms, which are one of the best food-based sources of vitamin D. Mushrooms support a healthy immune system and may help your body neutralize harmful effects of stress.
Eliminate from your diet highly-processed (packaged) foods and vegetable oils. That means nothing made with white flour or corn oil. If you want to get healthier and manage your blood sugar, that means no potato chips, crackers, pretzels, baked goods, etc.
If you love bread and can’t give it up, buy 100% rye bread or 100% whole grain bread.
#7: Get Plenty Of Fresh Air
As of this writing, it’s 12 degrees in Duluth, MN. If you’re a resident of that fine city as well as hundreds of other towns where the mercury reads below freezing today, the advice to get plenty of fresh air may be taken with a grain of salt.
However, spending time outdoors, whether it’s ice skating, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, or simply walking and breathing fresh air, can do wonders for your immune system and your psyche. Fresh air clears your lungs by balancing levels of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Inside, stuffy air leads to an imbalance of these elements.
Being outside in a bucolic environment such as a field, stream, river, beach, etc., lowers blood pressure and reduces stress. The benefits of spending time outdoors is very much underrated! And remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.