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Is Social Distancing Weakening Our Immune Systems?

By Blue Cross NC | June 25, 2020 | 5 min read | Industry Perspectives

People in masks social distancing in NYC

Discover how social distancing and wearing a mask can impact the strength of your immune system.

Based on the most up-to-date information, social distancing and wearing masks are two of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These two practices are recommended by major health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. But many are left wondering if there are long-term negative effects on the immune system from social distancing.

We know that being exposed to germs and certain bacteria through everyday interactions enables your body to become immune to the same infection if you are exposed again later. This is because your body makes antibodies.

Does wearing a mask and practicing social distancing limit our exposure to immune system building germs and bacteria too much?

In short, no.

We checked in with Blue Cross NC Medical Director, Dr. Larry Wu, to learn more.

Social Distancing and Immunity

According to Dr. Wu, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing–staying 6 feet apart–should not impact our immune systems. In fact, it is rare to live in an environment that is too hygienic.

However, there is a link between immune system strength and stress, anxiety and loneliness experienced from social distancing.

Prolonged stress, anxiety and loneliness may weaken your immune system. In small doses, these feelings are not bad for us. But when they continue for an extended period of time, inflammation levels can rise. Too much inflammation can reduce the ability of your immune system to fight off infection.

Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System

While these factors limit the strength of your immune system, there are a few things you can do to improve it. Dr. Wu recommends focusing on four activities to build your immunity. You can do these things even while socially distant.

  1. Decrease stress: During times of uncertainty, stress levels rise. COVID-19 has been no exception. For tips on how to manage stress and reduce pandemic panic, check out this post.
  2. Get enough sleep: Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system. Focus on getting between six and eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, these six tips could help.
  3. Eat well: Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways to prepare your body to fight an infection. Vegetables and fruits are essential to a well balanced diet.
  4. Exercise regularly: Exercise boosts your mood and reduces stress and depression. Try to get 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day.

Safe social distancing has taken a toll on everyone. Wearing a mask when leaving the house is a new routine that needs to become the norm. But these two actions can greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19. Reduced exposure to germs and bacteria should not drastically weaken your immune system.

For additional information on COVID-19 in North Carolina and your health benefits, visit our COVID-19 resources page.