The world as we know it is not going to be the same even once the pandemic ends and people begin returning to what was their normal work life. While business owners are keeping their fingers crossed for things to return to normal soon, we too need to be ready for the time when we can return to our regular pre-pandemic life.
"We’ve all been looking forward to this, but workers are feeling wary about going back on to trains and into offices," says Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester University’s business school. "What causes stress is lack of control, but we can take some control over our health and immunity before returning to work." Here’s how...
Audit your sleep
"Sleep strengthens our immune system, helping it to fight off viruses," says Dr Guy Meadows, clinical director of The Sleep School. "Seven hours a night enhances the function of T-cells, a type of white blood cell which attacks and kills viruses."
Dr Meadows says sleep also plays a role in producing cytokine, which "rallies the troops" of our immune system, making it respond much quicker to harmful invaders.
Lockdown, however, has led to "vacation sleep", according to Prof Kevin Morgan, a psychologist from Loughborough University who studies sleep. "As soon as you take away the constraints of office life, sleep changes. The good news is, sleep is plastic. It’s very flexible. Evolution has wired us up to deal with changing sleep patterns."
Prof Morgan says it’s likely people have shunted forward their day, going to bed later and sleeping in. And that’s the crux of the problem: "You don’t want to be ambushed by your alarm when you return to work."
He suggests a "sleep audit" this week, where you jot down how your habits have changed and where you can put them right. "Routine is the guardian of good sleep," he says, "so I would suggest making changes ahead of the announcement." Start by waking up 30 minutes earlier, because your circadian rhythm – your internal body clock – is anchored to your getting-up time. "This will make you go to bed earlier and your sleep habits will gently shift back to normal."
Eat for immunity
"Vitamin D is a good place to start," says Dr Jenna Macciochi, an immunologist and author of new book Immunity. "Vitamin D, which is produced when skin is exposed to the sun.
"It’s important for our respiratory system, keeps our airways healthy and helps us fight respiratory infections," says Dr Macciochi. "While low levels leave us more prone to catching respiratory infections, like colds, flu and pneumonia, and we take longer to recover from them. Vitamin D goes part and parcel with Covid-19, which is a respiratory infection."
As for other supplements, she suggests a "food first" approach to immunity. Vitamin C has been touted as a possible prevention for coronavirus, but Dr Macciochi says the evidence isn’t clear and you’re better off eating a variety of colourful foods – vitamin C-rich fruits among them – rather than supplementing. "That way you get fibre, and other goodness, too."
She suggests protein at every meal (it helps your immune system make molecules to fight off infections) and to up your fibre: "We need fibre to support our immune system. People assume this means eating All Bran cereal, but fibre is found in legumes, beans, pulses, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and skin-on fruits and vegetables." Fibre also boosts gut health, which strengthens immunity.
There are very few quick dietary fixes with immunity, says Dr Macciochi. "Along with eating well, managing stress is important because stress dials down the immune system."
Lastly, she recommends reining in your lockdown calories ahead of your return to work: "If you’re consistently eating too much, your body stores the extra energy in your fat cells, which become inflammatory, which can increase your risk of infection."
According to Matt Roberts, a personal trainer, most of us have fallen into three camps during lockdown: "We have a camp of people who are doing a daily walk, but not much else. These people are losing muscle mass and strength in supporting areas like their glutes [the muscles in your bottom] and hips. If they’re also sitting a lot, especially working on a laptop, they may be in poor ergonomic positions, which will lead to back and neck pain."
In the second camp are the people who have suddenly started running or cycling more. These people, he says, may be experiencing creeping pain in their knees and hips.
Lastly, there are the ones who have got it just right, and neither overdone it nor deconditioned their bodies.
"Many of us will have experienced a drop in testosterone during lockdown, due to decreased activity levels, which impacts on fitness and immunity," says Roberts. "Get it back up again with a few high intensity workouts a week that leave you a bit breathless and sweaty, rather than just a gentle walk."
Roberts also recommends getting your glutes – which may have tightened up by all that sitting – working again, with lunges and squats. Doing them barefoot in the garden is particularly good, he says, because it increases strength in your lower leg.
"This is the week to start making changes, so you’re fighting fit and your immunity is bulletproofed, ahead of your return to work."
The Daily Telegraph