This year, the cold and flu season (coming your way right now) has a new, nasty wrinkle: the possibility of new Covid variants. So, keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is critical. When you are healthy, it is easy to forget that your body’s immune system works hard every day to keep you that way, protecting you from bacteria, viruses, toxins and fungi.
The immune system is a large network of organs, proteins (antibodies) and cells that protect the body from infection. Keeping that network in top condition is important. Unfortunately, as the days get shorter and schedules get busier, people don’t take as good care of themselves as they should. Lack of sleep, improper eating habits and stress all can have a negative impact.
The first line of defense in maintaining your immune system is a healthy lifestyle. Here are 5 ways to amp up your immunity.
- Maintaining a healthy diet keeps the immune system balanced and primed to fight off infections. Getting enough proteins and antioxidants is vital.
- Protein is a vital building block of immune cells. Most adults need at least 50 grams of protein every day—a portion roughly the size of your palm. Try to get some protein at every meal. Eggs, chicken and fish are all good sources of protein. Seeds and nuts make good snack choices!
- Vitamin C-rich foods and antioxidants are key to maintaining balance in the immune system. One study found that older adults that ate a kiwi fruit every day for a month significantly decreased the severity and duration of upper respiratory infection symptoms. Colorful fruits and vegetables all work together to help improve the immune system.
- You snooze, you won’t lose. While you sleep, your immune system releases cytokines, a type of protein that helps fight off inflammation, infection or stress. Lack of sleep decreases production of these proteins and your ability to fight off illness can be compromised. Most adults need 7-10 hours while most teenagers require 9-10 hours.
- Drink water! Proper hydration is critical to the immune system. The human body is 60% water, on average. The heart and brain are roughly 73%, the kidneys 79% and the lungs 83%. So, imagine how your body suffers when you are dehydrated. Water also removes toxins through sweat, the lymphatic system and other areas of the body. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the amount of water to drink each day. While many people are good with 4-6 cups, others need more, especially if they engage in intense exercise. If you can, check in with your doctor to make sure you are getting enough water.
- Work it, baby. Exercise is great for your immune system. It helps regulate your blood flow and aids in clearing bacteria out of your nose and lungs. What’s more, exercise raises your body temperature slightly, which may strengthen antibodies that fight infection. Regular exercise can reduce inflammation, enabling the immune system to work better at fighting off colds and infections. A recent study showed that people who reported exercising at least 3 times a week reduced their likelihood of getting a cold by 26%. If you are just starting to exercise, check with your doctor. Walking and swimming are great ways to get started!
- Relax! Stress takes a toll on your lymphocytes, the white blood cells that help fight off infection. The fewer lymphocytes, the higher the risk that your body won’t be able to fight off the next virus it might meet—whether a cold, flu, cold sore or Covid. Meditation, yoga and exercise can all help with relieving stress. Find ways every day to quiet your mind: sit down and sip a cup of tea, perhaps, or enjoy a 5-minute walk around the block. Just taking a few minutes to clear your head can help you reduce the stress in your life!
Remember, your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against viruses and infection. Make sure you help yourself stay healthy.