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Don't wait for disease. Strengthen your immune system now.

Prevention is always better than waiting .

A sports coach wearing a protective mask gives a fitness training session on March 12, 2020 in Paris, France.

Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images
  • The focus on stopping the immediate spread of the coronavirus should remind us about the importance of always maintaining a healthy immune system.
  • The most at-risk population are those with immunodeficiencies and respiratory problems.
  • Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, and not smoking keep your immune system strong.

Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.

Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.

Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet.

You might have seen these instructions here or there (or everywhere) lately. They're certainly important at this moment in time. Immediate actions must be taken; your best protection is prevention.

But there's a larger issue at play. Humans are reactionary animals. Americans seem particularly primed to react rather than foresee. We tend to respond only when necessary. As we're finding out, kicking the can down the road in regards to our health is not the wisest decision.

There is plenty of discussion about the dangers of COVID-19 on people with immunodeficiencies. The conversation also needs to focus on maintaining a healthy immune system so that when disasters strike, you're as prepared as possible to withstand the ravages of disease.

Your entire body is effectively your immune system. Specifically, the parts that play a role include your lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, appendix, adenoid, thymus, and Peyer's patches (gut-associated lymphoid tissue). While geographically widespread, this team unites for a single purpose: to protect you against disease.

As you age, your immune system weakens. This is why cancers are more prevalent in older populations and infections that you shrugged off earlier in life can end up taking your life. Recovery periods from seemingly minor insults are extended. As it stands, respiratory infections, pneumonia, and influenza are among the top causes of death in seniors over age 65 around the world. This makes COVID-19 especially dangerous to older populations.

Maintaining a healthy immune system should be important to all of us at every age. At some point, you and I and everyone will experience the final insult that leads to death. Living a healthy lifestyle means you are not only increasing your chances for living longer, but you'll also live better at every step. Below are eight methods for keeping your immune system strong.

3 Immunity Boosters You Should Know About

Exercise

You've heard it a million times, but let's repeat it again: regular movement is one of the most important factors for keeping your immune system in top shape. Exercise alleviates mental health issues, helps lift depression, and reduces the effects of anxiety disorder—all cognitive issues that add stress to our lives, and chronic stress destroys immune systems.

On the physical side, humans were born to move. Denying yourself this birthright proves detrimental to fighting disease. Load your body, engage in cardiovascular activity, stretch—just get moving. The most important aspect of exercise on your immune system appears to be increased circulation, so even regular walking is a boon. Ideally, you push your heart rate up regularly and load your body at least three times per week.

Eat well, especially fruits and vegetables

While movement is essential, nothing affects your immune system more than your diet. Those who live in poverty or are malnourished (or both) are more susceptible to infectious diseases than other populations. Regardless of economic status, your risk for immunodeficiencies increases if your diet is high in sugars and carbohydrates.

Those lacking vitamins such as zinc, iron, folic acid, copper, selenium, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E might also experience immune problems. The answer is simple: eat a lot of plants and fruits and lower your intake of processed and sugary foods. Make sure dessert is what it was intended to be: an occasional treat. Stop eating dessert for breakfast.

Watch your weight

In December, it was reported that half of Americans will be obese in 10 years if interventions are not put into place. Even more alarmingly, a quarter of Americans will be severely obese—over 100 pounds overweight. An animal that, for 350,000 years, has survived thanks to nutritional scarcity has fallen victim to caloric excess. The negative health effects of obesity cannot be overstated. Trouble fighting disease is only one of the many consequences of not maintaining a healthy body weight.

Minimize stress

Anxiety levels are skyrocketing. Most people have not been infected by this coronavirus nor will fall seriously ill due to it, yet fear and panic are overriding our calmer instincts. Added stress increases the likelihood you'll experience more dire effects if you are infected; chronic stress is more detrimental to overall health than the occasional stressor.

Numerous anxiety reduction techniques exist—parasympathetic breathing techniques, meditation, listening to music, conversing with friends, and many others. We need a mass cognitive reframing right now. Though the worst is probably ahead of us, this epidemic too will pass. Keeping this in mind is important as you navigate this new terrain.

Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup With Lemon.

Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post via Getty Images; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Drink in moderation

Alcohol stunts the immune response. While a little bit might prove relaxing, moderation is key. Drinking daily or getting drunk to distract yourself from the virus (or anything else) increases the likelihood that your body will be incapable of fighting off the disease if you become infected. Be smart about your drinking and try not to use it as a coping mechanism.

Sleep!

Sleep deprivation reduces your body's ability to produce essential proteins that keep your body healthy. Still, the National Sleep Foundation estimates that 47 million Americans don't get enough shuteye. It is estimated that 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. Chronic lack of sleep leads to both mental and physical health problems, including a compromised immune system. In fact, the number one remedy for most illnesses is sleep (along with hydration). Basic, of course, but basics are essential.

Avoid infection

The best way to not get sick is to avoid situations in which you can get sick. Wash your hands. Don't touch your face. Maintain a distance of at least six feet. This is always good advice, but critical now.

Throw out the cigarettes

Cigarette smokers are especially susceptible to COVID-19 given that it's a respiratory disease. We've known about the deadly consequences of smoking for a century, even though it took public health officials some time to catch on. In the long run, nothing good comes from it. Don't wait for another epidemic to kick this habit.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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