Winter has arrived—and so has the Omicron variant. And if the latest spike in infections is any indication, we still have a LONG season ahead of us.
The good news is, we’ve made great advances since the pandemic first hit back in 2020.
Of course, COVID isn’t the only virus lurking in the shadows during these cooler, darker days.
But since it remains top of mind, let’s revisit a few key strategies to help protect yourself against severe illness. That way, even if you do test positive, you can at least boost your odds of a speedy and uneventful recovery.
Here are my top five tips…
1.) Get vaccinated and boosted. I’ve made my stance on COVID-19 vaccination very clear, so I won’t turn this into a lecture. Especially because the numbers speak for themselves: As of this writing, data suggests that vaccination offers up to 40 percent protection against infection, and around 70 percent protection against hospitalization—without a booster. With a booster, that protection increases to 75 percent against infection, and 88 percent against severe disease.1
2.) Mind your vitamin D levels. Previous research has shown that the risk of severe COVID-19 infection was nearly 16 percent lower among patients with normal levels of vitamin D, compared to deficient levels. 2 So you can only imagine the protection that optimal levels might offer.
As always, start by having your vitamin D 25 OH blood levels checked every six months. (I consider levels between 80 to 90 ng/mL to be “optimal”—because that’s where all the health benefits kick in.) Then, I recommend a daily dose of at least 50 mcg (2,000 IU) to 125 mcg (5,000 IU) to maintain optimal levels. But if you’re starting with lower blood levels, I recommend 250 mcg (10,000 IU) daily, which is perfectly safe with regular monitoring.
3.) Nurture your microbiome. Researchers believe that gut imbalance is likely implicated in cases of long COVID, where symptoms persist for weeks, if not months.3 Granted, it’s too soon to claim a causal relationship between an imbalanced microbiome and poor COVID-19 outcomes. But given what we already know about the gut’s role in immune responses, well… it’s not exactly a stretch.
That’s why I recommend following a healthy, balanced diet—one that naturally supports and balances your gut microbiome—and supplementing with a high-quality, multi-strain probiotic. You’ll want to look for one that features different strains of friendly flora—along with prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. (Remember, when it comes to probiotics, more isn’t necessarily better. The key is diversity of strains over quantity.) Then, add it to your daily supplement regimen.
4.) Exercise regularly. I can’t stress this one enough. You already know how beneficial exercise is to good health (see page 1). And now, research shows it’s vital against COVID, too.
One study showed that slow walkers of a normal weight were 2.5 times more likely to suffer from a severe case of COVID-19, and 4 times more likely to die from COVID-19.4 In fact, they were at higher risk for both severe COVID-19 and COVID-19 death than obese, fast walkers. Plus, that risk remained equally high in slow walkers of all weights—from normal to obese.
This makes sense, because faster walkers tend to be fitter and have better cardiovascular health. In turn, this makes them less vulnerable to all kinds of external stressors—including viral infections. So, get up and move! Even a brisk, 30-minute daily walk can make a huge difference.
5.) Keep your blood sugar balanced. As you know, cardiometabolic conditions—namely obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—are the biggest risk factors besides age for severe COVID-19 outcomes. But research has shown that even non-diabetics face a dramatically higher risk of dying from COVID-19 if their blood sugar tests above 140.5
Translation: Sugar kills. Meaning it’s time to kick that nasty habit once and for all. Because good health begins and ends with a good diet.
Of course, most of these tips are things I hope you were doing long before COVID-19 came on the scene. But keep in mind that consistency is key.
And if you’ve let yourself slide on any of these fronts, there’s no time like the present to start paying more attention. In turn, you’ll help protect yourself against (and more quickly recover from) COVID and other common ailments that may come knocking on your door this winter—and year-round.
- “By the Numbers: COVID-19 Vaccines and Omicron.” (https://www.healthline.com/health-news/by-the-numbers-covid-19-vaccines-and-omicron)
- Daneshkhah A, et al. The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients. medRxiv, Posted April 30, 2020.
- “Make-up of gut microbiome may influence COVID-19 severity and immune response: Imbalances in type and volume of bacteria may also be implicated in ‘long COVID’.” Science Daily, 01/11/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210111190135.htm)
- “Pick up the pace! Slow walkers four times more likely to die from COVID-19, study finds.” Science Daily, 03/16/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210316083755.htm)
- “Blood Glucose on Admission Predicts COVID-19 Severity in All.” Medscape Medical News, 11/30/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/941716)