"We are not powerless" – York doctor tells us how to boost our immunity to fight off coronavirus. MAXINE GORDON reports

THESE are unprecedented times – and, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, as we worry about our health and our livelihoods, it can seem overwhelming and we can feel powerless.

That's why York medic Kurt Haendlmayer is on a mission to spread the word that we can do a lot to improve our health and give us the best chance of fighting coronavirus – and that a few simple changes can make a big impact.

Kurt, a dad-of-two from York, is an orthopaedic surgeon and also private health coach at Yorkshire Health Coaching. He has set up a free Facebook group @B-Well Yorkshire Health Coaching with the aim of giving people advice on how to keep themselves healthy during the crisis.

He said: "We created this group to provide information during the pandemic. We feel there is information lacking, for example, on how to improve your immune system to have a better chance of a milder disease in case you get infected.

"Hopefully, we can help to improve your health by providing information, answer questions and host live events to discuss health-related topics. You might be surprised to find that there is a lot you can actually do to improve your wellbeing in a short period of time."

Kurt stresses that for the vast majority of us, the virus will be mild – but we can still carry out some simple lifestyle changes to increase our chances of having a less serious version of it, and of making a faster recovery.

He said: "There is lot of advice from the government on how to contain and delay the spread and fantastic work is being done on all fronts to help us get through this pandemic with the least impact on society and the economy.

"But what should be added is advice on what we can do as individuals, in case we contract the virus, to boost our chances of having a milder form of the disease?

"Although most of us will have only mild symptoms, or none, it is a spectrum from hardly noticeable to deadly, the latter particularly for people with underlying health problems and the elderly.

"While we may not be able to avoid getting the virus, we can do something to stack the odds more in our favour in case we become Covid-19 positive by boosting our immune system. This can help to shift the severity of the disease to a more favourable outcome."

Kurt points out our immune system is vital in the defence against viruses and there are a lot of easy steps we can undertake to strengthen it and improve the prognosis.

"The logic in doing it is just too obvious to ignore. If we manage to get a milder form of the disease, we have less risk of dying, less risk of infecting others because our symptoms will subside sooner and we will cough less. In other words, we are less infectious. This will help slow the spread down."

However, he says, it involves getting rid of some bad habits, which is difficult to do because habits and belief systems are often engrained very deeply in individuals.

He said: "If the coronavirus is not enough motivation to change bad habits, then there is little hope. So, what can we do?"

Here's Kurt's action plan:

1. Reduce stress

This is difficult as this is one of the most stressful situations you can be in, but things that can help are: meditating, practising mindfulness and having a bath with Epsom salts (rich in magnesium which is best absorbed through the skin) and is very relaxing. Simple breathing exercises are effective too – count four while breathing in, then six while breathing out – which gives your brain a signal to switch off the 'fight or flight' mode and switch into a 'rest and digest' recovery mode.

2. Sleep well

Try to get enough sleep, more than 7.5 hours per night. Good sleep leads to better decision making. Get better sleep quality: sleep before midnight is most beneficial. Avoid late meals. Avoid alcohol before sleep or reduce it at least. Avoid use of mobile devices 90 minutes before sleep. Exercise, ideally outdoors

3. Avoid sugars. Sugar is pro-inflammatory, which preoccupies your immune system, making it less reactive to pathogens (ie viruses).

4. Eat a healthy balanced diet. Besides avoiding sugars, add fibre with fruit and vegetables to boost your healthy gut bacteria for a better microbiome. The gut is central to a good immune function, so treat it well. Avoid processed food. The gut can’t process it properly, which again leads to chronic inflammation.

Foods known to boost immune function are: oats and barley; garlic; broccoli, spinach and kale; shellfish rich in selenium; omega-three rich foods such as salmon, mackerel and herring; foods rich in zinc like beef, pork and poultry (organic, if you can); shellfish.

Vegan options include heated legumes as well as seeds (hemp, squash, pumpkin, sesame seeds).

Eat foods rich in vitamin A such as carrots, tomatoes and sweet potatoes and foods rich in vitamin C such as broccoli, kiwi and citrus fruits.

4. Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of clear fluid, particularly in the mornings as we wake up dehydrated. Cell function relies on an adequate hydration level to function and of course our immune function is regulated by cells.

I have a glass of water as soon as I wake up I call it my "inner shower".

Dehydration is the number one reason for fatigue and brain fog. Decision making is clouded again and can lead to poor food choices.

5. Exercise regularly. Moderate exercise boosts immune function, ideally in fresh air. Walking in nature is best. Exercise also helps to get better sleep.

At the time of publication, Government advice is that even if you are self isolating you can go out for a walk or a run by yourself – that hasn't changed yet. It's quite quiet out there.

But even if you have to be inside there is a lot you can do – even in a small room. You can even do exercise as you watch TV! Get up off the sofa and do squats, push-ups, try balancing on one foot. Also, there are lots of online workouts you can follow. You have to keep moving; movement gives you energy.

Finally: don’t smoke and avoid alcohol.

All these tips, when followed, can improve your immune system within days.

Of course, it will not be easy to follow every bit of advice due to habits, beliefs and circumstances.

However, try your best to do as many of the above as possible as it gives you the ability to improve your chances of a better outcome in case you get infected with Covid-19.

Stack the odds in your favour.

Ideally, of course, carry it on for life, as it will improve your health overall.