I like to joke with friends, family, and anyone that will listen that the rest of the world needn't worry about getting sick as I will simply take on all the illnesses of the world for them. No matter where I go, what I do, and how I prepare, I manage to get sick. Except for the flu, like clockwork, I get my flu shot and I miss the flu so I guess the key is to stay vaccinated folks. So when I got wind that the coronavirus was breaking out dangerously close to my next destination I got real scared. Jokes aside, this virus is pretty serious and could lead to some really serious issues so check out the bottom of the post for ways to help. In fact, it can be hard on your immune system whenever you travel, not just during this particular time. Many different illnesses are commonly spread during travel, not the least of which is influenza (looking at you America) so we should always be considerate of spreading germs when traveling. And since I have the immune system of a fly and am incredibly paranoid I'm going to use this opportunity to share some tips on how to stay healthy and protect yourself before any trip, not just those that occur during a viral outbreak. These tips come from my years of going to family gatherings (germ breeding-grounds), conventions, and riding airplanes.
Fuel Your Body
Your body is a temple, right? Okay sure, maybe your body doesn't need to be a temple 365 days out of the year. But once you book that flight, hotel, or decide you're going on a trip you better start thinking about eating a healthier diet. Fresh fruits and vegetables, less processed foods, you know the drill. Humblebrag alert, but I eat a pretty balanced diet already so I haven't made many modifications. But now that I'm *sweats* two months away from departure I'm cleaning up any less-than-desirable areas of my diet and getting my shit together. If you want to monitor your vitamin intake and ensure you're getting the right nutrients (I'll touch on this later) I highly recommend Cronometer which is a free app and online program for tracking meals and nutrients.
Sweat It Out
Moving your body is good for you. Period end of the story, even if we don't want to think about doing it. Exercising for 30-60 minutes a day gets your heart going, even if it's just a walk or light exercise which leads to long-term benefits. These benefits add up and make you healthier in the long-term, therefore making your immune system healthier. Exercise increases your body's ability to defend itself for a few reasons actually, including stress reduction. That's right, even though you absolutely panic at the thought of pouring sweat every morning, your body is burning that stress away. Cortisol, at certain levels, is bad for our bodies and can lead to suppressed immune systems, increased anxiety, and weight gain. That's why working out first thing in the morning is typically the most recommended time of day.
If you're unable to read this through your rolling eyes then I feel you. I joined a gym last year and even I want to throw up writing this, I sound like an absolute idiot. But you know what I just discovered that's cheaper than my gym, more fun, and actually makes me want to work out every day? Ring Fit Adventure on the Nintendo Switch. Yeah, the weirdly elevated version of Wii Fit on the Switch? It's amazing. I totally guffawed at it when I saw the initial trailer but when I read Polygon's review of the exercise-meets-RPG experience I was blown away. Then I played the mini-games at my brother-in-law's house and I found myself at Target the next day buying my own copy. This thing has kept me from going to the gym. So if you need a way to move your body and have fun doing it, check out the newest, weird way Nintendo is planning to make us all healthy.
Vitamin C Baby (... and D and B12 too)
Okay, this step comes with a big, giant piece of a salty disclaimer. Please get a blood test before participating in this step, I am not a doctor or nutritionist so I can't tell you your specific levels of Vitamins C, D, and B12 you should have. But getting a blood test and consulting a nutritionist will put you on the right path. That being said, here are some very generalized recommendations based on my body and my regimen I follow for preventing illnesses.
In case you don't know, I follow a plant-based diet due to a health condition that I have. This means I am intimately aware of what vitamin levels I should have, what deficiencies I'm at risk for, and where I can do better in my diet. Does that mean I'm the pinnacle of supplementation and health? Hell no. That's why when I can (and to be honest I can't always) I try to get a blood test to see where my levels are. If I can't, I take a big old guess and just start supplementing based on how I'm feeling, how often I've been getting sick, etc. It's not the best course of action but it works for me so I do it.
The three key vitamins I start pounding around 2 months before a big event or trip are Vitamin C, D, and B12. Unless you know for a fact you have perfect levels of each of these, via a blood test, chances are you need one or all as well. Most people, even those with omnivorous diets, are deficient in all three and some are more deficient than plant-based eaters. I don't have any sponsorships or commissions but these are the three of my favorites for each of these products. Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and I recommend liquid forms whenever possible. You can find each of those at natural food stores or retailers such as Amazon, I just prefer to buy from the brand for a better price.
A few words of wisdom since vitamins are a bit tricky if you've never have taken them before, then I promise I'll move on. First, Vitamin D tastes nasty and it's always the worst in liquid form, that's why it's pretty unpopular for companies to offer it. I take it first in my line-up and mask it quickly with my B12 to cover the horrible taste. Secondly, f you only take Vitamin D from the list then please take it with orange juice or another form of Vitamin C. It is easier for the body to fully absorb when Vitamin C is also present, this is why so many cereal companies fortify with both or recommend orange juice as a "serving suggestion." Lastly, vitamins don't work overnight. It can take up to three months for them to synthesize in your body, I find two months to be fair game but I am a pretty small person and it could totally be a placebo. Test at your own risk!
Sometimes I think of what will eventually kill me. Dark, right? It kind of comes with the territory when you have an anxiety disorder but I bet a lot of us think about it from time to time. The reality of it is, that stress will likely kill us all eventually - if we aren't careful. Stress is seriously disastrous on our bodies and our minds which, as it turns out, is not good for our immune systems either. Planning a trip is terribly stressful, and for many, it can be anxiety-inducing, which is why it's important to lessen that stress. This is why, in my next blog post, I'll be covering all the ways I've learned to manage my pre-travel stress to try and stay on top of my health. For now, I'll give you the long-short of it. Find what makes you happy and relaxed, then make more time for that. If you don't know what does that for you then try new calm activities like yoga, stretching, or hiking. Some of these might help you cross off both stress-relief and exercise from your list!
Keep Your Wallet Safe
Okay, I can't guarantee that this will help your immune system but let me give you some unsolicited grade-A Michelle advice. There are a lot, and I mean so many, immune-system supplements out there. I've tried a lot of them and honestly, none of them have done much for me beside remove money from my wallet. Stocking up on my vitamins, living a healthier lifestyle, and staying on top of my stress has kept me relatively safe.
Your immune system is complex, just like most systems within your body. It takes time and energy to stay on top of if you don't naturally have a strong one. Put love into your body and if you still cannot stay healthy then there may be an issue that requires medical attention. There's no shame in seeking help from a medical professional but a snake oil salesman with an overnight solution isn't going to solve your problems.
Staying healthy while traveling can be hard, but with the right amount of preparation, you can have a much better chance of staying healthy on the road or in the air. You should always do your best to stay healthy, not just when a particular virus has spread. If you're able to I'd like to mention this GoFundMe for the Wuhan University Alumni to prepare and send medical supplies to groups in the quarantine zones impacted by the Coronavirus. I've personally donated to and vetted this group and don't have another I'd recommend at this time, this group specifically is sending supplies from outside China due to a lack of availability of supplies within impacted areas.