We have been taken on a very real and serious roller-coaster ride of health both physically and emotionally for the past year and a half. To top it off, it seems that lately we’re all faced with the COVID variant of the week. Since the first two waves, we have been warned about the alpha, beta and gamma strains. Now it’s the delta variation taking the world by storm.

Evidence shows that delta may be more transmissible than other variants, but based on the Google Covid State Stats search tool, it is not more deadly. Infection rates in the UK—one of the countries hardest hit by the delta variant—have grown from approximately 2,700 new cases on May 17 to 53,969 on July 17. But the number of deaths has not climbed at the same rate, going from a daily average in the single digits during May to a seven-day average of 42 on July 17.

Similarly, death stats in the US are showing virtually no change even as cases rise in some areas. And, while the media is widely reporting that 40% of COVID patients in British hospitals have been previously vaccinated—though most of those have not yet received the second shot—an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal by Dr. Leslie Bienen (public health researcher at Oregon Health and Science University–Portland State University School of Public Health) and Dr. Monica Gandhi (infectious disease physician at University of California, San Francisco) assured readers that hospitalizations have similarly remained extremely low in the face of the delta variant, especially in areas with significant numbers of people who are vaccinated.

Don’t get me wrong. COVID-19 is not something you want to contract, even if these diminishing death and hospitalization rates are encouraging.

But the media has made a lot of money by keeping us all glued to our screens and fearing for our lives. What they and the government haven’t done is encourage people to follow the most basic principles of health and wellness to reduce their risk for illness.

COVID is not going to magically vanish any time soon. Instead, we have bet our money—and our lives—on the vaccines. There is no question that the vaccines have helped significantly in the fight against COVID, including in diminishing the effects of the delta variant among those breakthrough cases. But Moderna, Pfizer and J&J are not going to protect you from the next deadly germ or virus or chronic ailment.

Vaccinated or not, it is time to take your health into your own hands by following basic fundamentals to reduce your risk for illness.

For starters, let’s look at the highest risk factors for COVID…

Age: Well, you can’t do anything about that, but since age is a significant risk factor, the older you are, the more important it is to do everything you can to reduce other risks.

Obesity: The more overweight you are, the greater your risk of contracting COVID, being hospitalized for it and dying from it. According to the CDC, the chance of hospitalization can be triple for those who are obese. Adding to that, weight gain during the pandemic has been widely reported—and not just a little weight…an average of 29 pounds among those who reported weight gain!

High blood sugar/diabetes: Researchers at University of Michigan reported on the increased risk for inflammatory responses throughout the body among people who have diabetes and uncontrolled blood sugar. People with diabetes or high blood sugar who contract COVID have a greater chance of being hospitalized or dying.

Vitamin D deficiency: There is a very high correlation between low  levels of vitamin D and increased risk of contracting COVID and dying from it. In a study by Dr. Michael Holick,  Boston University professor and vitamin D expert, researchers found “a 54% higher COVID-19 positivity rate among patients whose blood levels [of vitamin D] were less than 20 ng/mL compared with patients who had blood levels of at least 55 ng/mL.” A different study found that people “with sufficient vitamin D were 51.5% less likely to die from COVID-19.”

Zinc deficiency: As with vitamin D, multiple studies have shown both increased risk for COVID and far worse outcomes among people who were deficient in the mineral zinc. A study in Germany published in British Journal of Nutrition focused on the suppression of immune function in those who were zinc-deficient, while a study from India in International Journal of Infectious Diseases reported that those who are zinc-deficient had an “odds ratio” of developing complications of 5.54…in other words, those who were zinc-deficient were 5.54 times more likely to develop complications than others with adequate zinc levels.  

Fortunately, aside from age, it’s extremely easy to increase your body’s defenses and reduce your risk of contracting COVID and other illnesses. Why aren’t doctors or the media talking about this? I wish I knew…I’ve been wondering it—and writing about it—since last March.

I apologize in advance if the advice below is annoyingly obvious. The truth is that the basics of good health and a strong immune system simply aren’t that complicated. Plus, it is far cheaper than expensive drugs and treatments.

  1. Raise your D levels: While it seems obvious to simply go outside to increase your vitamin D levels, it’s not so easy for several reasons…
  • Use of sunscreen inhibits absorption of vitamin D
  • The vast majority of Americans live at latitudes that don’t provide adequate levels of vitamin D, especially during winter months
  • We spend too much time inside.

These reasons are from a great conversation I had with Dr. Holick. Better and easier is to supplement with vitamin D-3. Dr. Holick recommends 1,000 international units (IU)  to 2,000 IU per day. This amount is generally regarded as safe and appropriate, but check with your doctor first.

  1. Zinc up: Zinc can be found in protein-based foods, including beef, poultry, shellfish, legumes, nuts, eggs and dairy. You also can take a zinc supplement or a multivitamin that contains zinc. Again, check with your doctor or someone trained in nutritional supplements for the dosing that is right for you.
  2. Lose weight: Simple right? No. I understand that, especially since I eat my fair share of salty, greasy chips. But I also offset that by exercising seven days a week and eating a whole lot of fresh veggies, fruit and lean protein. I also generally avoid wheat, sugar and dairy. Most people who are significantly overweight secretly know that they are consuming more calories than they are burning. Yes, some people have metabolism problems or medications that cause weight gain—but stop at any rest stop on the highway or look at what is in people’s grocery carts, and you’ll see where most of the obesity crisis is coming from.

Someone once asked me what diet I thought was best. My answer: None of them. You won’t lose weight on a punitive diet. Instead it is about a lifestyle shift that has you powerfully choosing to eat fewer calories every day and choosing to have the majority of those calories come from vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and whole grains. If you really want to reduce your risk for COVID, and virtually every other chronic health issue, decide today to make changes to your diet. You can do it a little at a time and ease into it, but make that choice. Take your hand off the soda, ice cream, cheeseburger—no one is force-feeding those things to you.

Changing your diet and losing weight is a double winner—it impacts obesity and lowers blood sugar.

  1. Move your body: When my friend was diagnosed with diabetes at age 22, he was given rule number one—walk. Moving your body helps it process glucose more effectively while increasing insulin-sensitivity, both of which can lower blood sugar levels. You can walk, run, cycle, garden or dance—just be sure you work your muscles every day.
  2. Get six to eight hours of sleep: Every expert out there says that getting six to eight hours of sleep each night is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Multiple studies have shown that better sleep improves health while poor sleep negatively impacts it. Having trouble sleeping? Here are 21 ways to help you overcome sleep challenges.

All obvious, right? So, are you going to do it? Take matters into your own hands and realize that there are some super-simple things that you can do to increase your defenses against this and future COVID outbreaks? Yes, get the vaccine if that is what your doctor recommends for you. And know that medical science has also done an extraordinary job of finding and developing treatments for those who do get severely ill. But in the meantime, take back your power and forget those fears.