Dad Diaries #2: How to boost your immune system
I have grown up attending Catholic youth events, men’s events and family events abounding with cakes, cokes, pizzas and sausage-sizzles.
At many of these same events we were often reminded that, as the baptised, we are to treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit.
Look at how beautifully the Knox translation of the Bible (the second English translation ever) puts the passage from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
“Surely you know that your bodies are the shrines of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you. And He is God’s gift to you, so that you are no longer your own masters. A great price was paid to ransom you; glorify God by making your bodies the shrines of his presence.”
I was used to associating this passage specifically with the virtues of chastity and modesty.
But later, as someone who struggled for several years with a suppressed immune system and a form of fatigue that became so crippling I had to quit my missionary work, the passage took on a far broader meaning to me.
And now in the midst of COVID-19 I believe it should take on a similar meaning for each family: that God cares a great deal what we put into, and do with, our bodies – and our minds.
Today study upon study warn us of the health risks in consuming things like cakes, cokes, pizzas and cheap sausages on white bread, which share the common denominators of processed sugar and processed grains. These foods are proven to multiply cancer cells and cause the likes of diabetes, obesity, depression, dementia, heart disease, tooth decay, etc.
At the same time sitting down for long periods of time has been called ‘the new smoking’, and doing so while staring at a screen for eight hours is even worse. Both are associated with several cancers, diabetes, depression and anxiety – this from a wide variety of sources.
As a husband, as well as a father of little boys, I know how important it is for me to show up with confident leadership and health for my family, so that I can work to provide for them and play with them each day after work, and most importantly, teach them the Faith and lead them in prayer.
Through my vocation as a married man I recognise that God requires my spiritual life, my growth in virtue and my physical health to be the necessary trifecta for making my body a ‘shrine of His presence’.
“The glory of God is man, fully alive”, said St Irenaeus.
COVID-19 is a perfect moment in time for Catholic families to remind the world what that means.
It doesn’t just mean sanitizing our hands and practicing social distancing; it’s far more holistic, and so I thought I’d dedicate the rest of this column to sharing some tips that I use to boost my entire immune system: mental, physical, and spiritual; and therefore live as the husband and dad God is calling me to be:
- Motion is Lotion
According to Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist Dr Michael Miller, exercise can be at least as effective as anti-depressants, especially for those milder cases of depression.
Since I finally got myself into a regular habit of exercising intensely at least four times a week I realised that all the hype is true: my mind is clearer, my mood more stable, my energy more consistent, and of course, my body is stronger. All of this equals more focused prayer time.
Not all exercise is created equal, but from my own experience and the advice of Dr Al Sears, who runs his own immune-boosting exercise program called PACE, hitting a peak of intensity, recovering, and then starting again for at least 12 minutes a day is the way to go to stay healthy.
Especially having little boys, I reckon fitness is a must. I have already noticed how much easier it is to throw 10-kilo Athanasius up in the air since going to the gym regularly. But when he and his soon-to-be-born little brother start running around and wanting me to join them, I know I’ll have to be on my A-game!
- Eating the Right Foods
I made it pretty clear that cakes, cokes, pizza and sausage sizzles aren’t doing us any favours. So, what should we be eating?
China and South Korea give us some clues with the ways they are treating COVID-19 patients successfully: using intravenous vitamin C, and oxygen therapies. To translate that into our everyday lives means eating a lot of antiviral foods – think darkly-coloured berries and veggies, garlic, ginger and apple cider vinegar – and drinking LOTS of filtered water: aim for three litres a day.
Eating well means having the energy to love my wife and kids wholeheartedly and actively. It means teaching the boys gradually that even though certain foods may not taste amazing, we still eat them in order to keep our “shrines of Jesus” in tip top condition.
- Meditative prayer
When you’re prayerfully meditating on something, whether during the Rosary or Lectio Divina, you know you’re doing it right when you no longer feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed; you have entrusted whatever the issue is over to Jesus, and you know He’s taking care of it.
Physiologically this means you have turned off the stress response in your nervous system (also known as fight-or-flight mode). The reason this is so important is that when the stress response is switched on, our immune systems become repressed and we’re more likely to get sick, which is why approximately 95% of illnesses are closely associated with, or directly caused by, stress. So, the more you trust God wholeheartedly, the more your immune system is able to protect you from viral or bacterial infections!
Most importantly, I want my kids to know that I’m a man of prayer. I want them to see me trying my best to humbly receive and live out God’s Will for my life so that they will do the same. But for now, unexpected little disasters are a constant when you have little kids, and I know that I need all the grace I can get to deal with them patiently and prudently!
BONUS TIP: Take cold showers
One of the more extreme penances gaining popularity through Catholic exercises like Exodus 90, cold showers have surprisingly powerful physical health benefits, too! Besides improving both circulation and mood, cold showers have been proven to drain the lymphatic system, thus flushing the body of toxins and lessening chances of any infections. According to a 2017 study from England, they also “trigger an increase in the metabolic speed rate and the number of white blood cells in the body, which then help fight diseases.”
For me, cold showers mean increased mental clarity, a powerful tool to help decipher the often confusing cues and language of a toddler!
Maybe it sounds like I’m going a little over the top here, but the Church has always taught that grace builds on nature.
For me that means setting an example for my family in doing what I can to ensure my nature is in the best shape possible, and then handing it all over to Jesus in prayer to let Him take care of the grace. In this sense the Church already has the perfect advice for us to weather the storm of a pandemic heroically.