Your immune system is your body's line of defense against bacteria and viruses that can pose a risk for illness. When it's functioning correctly, you're better able to fight off germs that you come in contact with so that you don't become sick. If you come down with something or suffer an injury, a robust immune system can get you back on the mend more quickly. It’s also imperative to think of immune support this time of year. While immunity is no longer a seasonal concern (as we’ve all seen over the last two years) this time of year is particularly wrought with immune challenges. That makes it even more important to optimize your immune system. Read on to discover how to support your immune system to benefit your overall health and well-being.
Why Immune System Support Matters
Your immune system is much like an automobile. For it to run smoothly, many processes must occur in tandem, and the actions you take can affect its performance. If you mistakenly put diesel fuel in your standard engine or don't change the oil, you can damage your car. On the other hand, following the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule can keep your vehicle on the road for years to come. Similarly, choices you make every day help or hinder your immune system.
Eat More Natural Foods
A healthy diet is like the gasoline that goes in your car. Your immune system needs fuel in the form of vital nutrients to work correctly. By eating more natural foods, you can increase your body's supply of vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates. At the same time, a healthy diet plan based on natural foods limits your exposure to chemical ingredients that may interfere with your immune system. Some specific dietary tips to follow include:
- Eating more foods that support immune system function like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, which are rich in antioxidants that protect your body from damaging free radicals
- Using healthy fats like olive oil that can help to modulate inflammation
- Adding fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, natto, and kefir to your diet, which are rich in probiotics that assist with digestion and work alongside your immune system to protect you from harmful microbes
- Reducing your intake of added sugars, which have been shown to uppress immune system function. This is particularly important this time of year, given that we have a tendency to overindulge around the holidays.
Capitalize on the Link Between Exercise and the Immune System
The benefits of exercise go beyond weight management and cardiovascular health. Numerous studies have confirmed a link between exercise and immunity. To keep your immune system going strong, follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for regular exercise by doing one of the following:
- 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise and two or more days of muscle-strengthening
- 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise and two or more days of muscle-strengthening
- An equivalent combination of moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercise and two or more days of muscle-strengthening
Improve Sleep Hygiene
Poor sleep hygiene can make you more at risk of getting sick. Additionally, the secretion of the hormone melatonin is highest around bedtime. This hormone helps establish your circadian rhythm to enable you to relax and sleep at night. Plus, recent research supports the effect of melatonin as a potent immune enhancer. This is why getting adequate sleep is an essential component of reducing stress and optimizing immune health. The CDC recommends that all adults get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. In addition to going to bed on time, you can take other steps to improve sleep. If you're wondering how to enhance the quality of sleep, follow these tips:
- Set a sleep schedule and follow it daily, waking up and going to bed at the same time
- Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol
- Don't eat large meals before you go to bed
- Keep your room cool
- Use earplugs or white noise to create a peaceful environment
- Control light with an eye mask or darkening shades
- Exercise often but try not to schedule workouts too close to bedtime
Find Ways to Manage Stress
Stress does more than negatively impact your mood. Numerous studies have shown that hormones released by your body during stress can suppress the immune system. Some stress management ideas include:
- Talk therapy
- Practicing mindfulness
- Deep breathing
Battle Dehydration Daily
When you're dehydrated, your body doesn't function at its best. A lack of moisture can interfere with your digestive system, brain, heart and kidneys, and your immune system. Make sure to drink water when you feel thirsty. It’s also a good idea to limit caffeine and sugary beverages. These can lead to dehydration and directly depress immune function. If you're sweating profusely or exposed to high outdoor temperatures, increase your fluid intake. Assessing hydration levels is as simple as looking at the color of your urine. If it's pale yellow, you're likely drinking enough.
Try Supplements to Boost Immune System Function
By combining immune system support supplements with lifestyle changes, you can help promote immunity. Although no supplement on its own is ever100 percent effective, the following supplements have shown promising results in scientific studies as supporters of multiple aspects of immune function:
- Elderberry. Elderberries are natural sources of antioxidants. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that elderberry may help the immune system fight off viruses and colds more quickly.
- Vitamin C. This essential vitamin acts as an antioxidant and is required for immune function. One large study found that taking vitamin C helped to shorten the length of colds.
- Zinc. The immune system uses this essential mineral to heal wounds and respond to threats. Studies have revealed that zinc supplements may help to reduce the length of colds.
- Vitamin D. This essential vitamin acts more like a pro-hormone and, among its other well-known benefits, directly stimulates the function of immune cells. Plus, the “sunshine” vitamin tends to be more deficient in fall and winter, so it’s important to boost levels.
- Yeast beta-glucans. These substances derived from yeast activate the immune system in the digestive tract. Since 70% or more of the immune system is located in the digestive tract, these molecules help increase immune vigilance and detection capabilities.