As a novel Coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 spreads throughout the world, you might be wondering whether your chances of becoming infected are impacted by your current fasting habits. Although there is reason to believe that some types of fasting boost your immune system based on animal studies, we don’t yet know if this holds true in humans.  Because of this, it can’t hurt to take certain precautions in your fasting approach during this particular outbreak. For example, practice moderate daily time-restricted eating as opposed to doing extended fasts, and focus on eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising.

Although there is no vaccine to protect us against this novel virus, there are steps you can take to boost your immune system naturally without interrupting your fasting schedule.  Below we outline 5 tips on how to fast safely while taking care of your body’s defenses.

1.   Eat well during your eating window

A recent study showed that people with better quality diets are less likely to be depressed, whereas people who eat more processed and unhealthy foods are more likely to report depression and anxiety.  In turn, depression weakens the immune system, which might make you more susceptible to viral infections. Some people might also be at risk for depression and anxiety due to current changes to daily life caused by this pandemic, so it is a time to focus on your mental health and even seek social support virtually. 

Photo by Iñigo De la Maza on Unsplash

Dr. Cecily Clark-Ganheart, a board certified physician who lost 50 lbs through intermittent fasting,  recommends eating whole, natural foods and avoiding processed foods. Leafy greens, fresh herbs, lettuce, peppers and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli protect against depression because they contain iron, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins, zinc, magnesium, vitamin D, and other plant chemicals that have been shown to improve mental health. The fiber in fruits and vegetables also promotes healthy microbes in your gut, which will also help you stay healthy. (Can’t find fresh fruit and veggies at the store right now? Stock up on frozen or canned ones.) Reduce your consumption of processed food and include fruits and veggies instead. For example, instead of potato chips, try homemade, baked kale chips; and instead of breakfast cereal, try one of these veggie omelettes.

Unsure of what to eat or what foods to buy to prepare for a potential Coronavirus lockdown in your city? Connect with our nutrition coach L.J Amaral for advice. 


2.   Fast for better sleep

Allowing your gut to rest for a few hours before you fall asleep can help you sleep better, which will be crucial to staying healthy during this pandemic. Sleeping less than 6 hours per night has been linked to heart disease and neurodegenerative disorders and could also make you more susceptible to viral infections such as the common cold virus. In a study involving 164 healthy men and women,  scientists kept track of the sleeping behaviors of the participants for a full week. They then sprayed their nose with a live common cold virus and isolated them to see who would get sick. They found that those who were sleeping less than 6 hours per night were at a higher risk of coming down with a cold compared to those who were sleeping for at least 7 hours per night. Although the novel coronavirus is a different virus, boosting our immune system through better sleep might still protect you against infections.

If you usually have trouble sleeping, try making small behavior changes

These tips and challenges might help you.

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3.   Avoid extended fasts 

Multi-day fasts may temporarily weaken your immune system, says LifeOmic’s CEO, Dr. Don Brown. Although you should already be practicing social distancing, it’s especially important to stay away from people if you are doing multi-day fasts to avoid over-challenging your body’s defenses. “There’s good reason to believe that your immune system will actually be stronger a few days after a long fast,” Dr. Brown says. The issue with doing extended fasts right now, however, is that you may not be able to ensure that you won’t come into contact with someone who is sick while you are fasting. Dr. Clark-Ganheart thinks shorter fasts of 24 hours or less during this coronavirus outbreak are your safest bet. “I personally would hold off on extended fasting,” she says. She points out that shorter fasts will still increase autophagy and induce weight loss without putting your body and immune system under additional stress.

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4.   Exercise

Not only is it safe to exercise while fasting, regular physical activity reduces the incidence of viral and bacterial infections.  When you exercise, your immune cells redistribute to various parts of your body, which heightens your ability to fight off disease. 

As many gyms are closing due to the outbreak, give at-home workouts a try. Down Dog: Great Yoga Anywhere is offering free, flexible, online workouts through April 1st, including yoga, barre, and HIIT. Tone It Up is also offering a variety of workouts to do at home, free of charge for a limited time. You could even video chat with a friend and work out virtually together!

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5.   Lean on your (virtual) network

Seek social support from others. “The strength and size of your social network are actually some of the strongest predictors of human lifespan and health,” Christine Lattin, stress researcher at Louisiana State University, previously told LifeOmic. As social distancing is becoming the norm to help reduce the spread of the virus, it’s important to take advantage of technology and social media to stay connected to your network. Use the internet to check up on your family and loved ones and to offer support to one another. Take advantage of our social circles in the LIFE Fasting tracker app to check up on your fasting buddies or to share how you’re feeling. While it’s allowed, you can also try taking a walk in nature. The Atlantic suggests to spend some time outside to take care of your mental and physical health. You can do it with a friend or family member who is not sick and who is also practicing social distancing. Remember to stay 6 feet away from others and to avoid physical contact.