The purpose of our immune system is to protect and defend your body from illness and disease, it’s our natural army that fights off invaders such as germs and diseases. It is made up of a complex network of cells, tissues and organs in your body. It is vital to boost your immune system to optimise good health, and the good news is there are various things you can do to help your body’s immune system to function at its best level. We have some useful tips below to help you boost yours!:
Diet is one of the most powerful tools we have to help prevent disease and a healthy body starts with a healthy immune system. The nutrients you get from food — in particular, nutrient-rich plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices — are essential to keeping your immune system functioning properly. Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight off infection.
For example, spices (eg: cloves, cinnamon, oregano, thyme, and cumin) contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties. In addition to this, nutrients such as zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, and B12 you get from the food you eat are the nutrients your immune system needs to function properly, and each one plays a crucial role. Our bodies do not produce vitamin C, so we need to obtain it through foods (such as citrus fruits, kiwis, red pepper and various cruciferous vegetables).
Protein is also essential for our immune health. The amino acids in protein help build and maintain healthy immune cells, and not eating enough may lower your body’s ability to fight infections.
When you want to boost your immune system, focus on eating more plants and plant-based foods. Add fruits and veggies to soups and stews, smoothies, and salads, or eat them as snacks. Carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines), and strawberries are all great sources of vitamins A and C, while seeds and nuts will provide protein, vitamin E, and zinc. Additional sources of protein and zinc include seafood, lean meat, and poultry.
In need of a treat? Whilst the enemy in sugar, dark chocolate is a great alternative and can even strengthen the defences and up our body’s resistance!
2. Manage your stress levels
Long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of cortisol. The body relies on hormones like cortisol during short-term bouts of stress (when your body goes into “fight-or-flight” response). But when cortisol levels are constantly high, it prevents the immune system from doing its job to protect the body against potential threats from germs like viruses and bacteria.
There are many ways to reduce your stress levels. Meditation and mindfulness can help a lot, exercise, and any activity you enjoy (such as art, cooking, reading, and gardening). Try to do a stress relieving activity every day, even 5-10 minutes is better than nothing if you don’t have more time. Try it and enjoy the escapism!
Our body heals and regenerates during sleep, making the right quantity and quality of sleep essential for a healthy immune system.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system can’t produce important immune cells, making it less able to defend your body against harmful enemies, in turn making you more likely to get sick. One study found that healthy young adults with insomnia were more susceptible to the flu, than other healthy young adults without sleeping difficulties.
Furthermore, sleep deprivation also elevates cortisol levels, which of course is also not good for immune function as mentioned above in section 2. As a result, our immune system starts to break down, and we can not fight off nor recover from illness as effectively.
It is recommended that all adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. To ensure you get quality sleep, practice good sleep hygiene: go gadget free at least two to three hours before bed, turn off your wifi, avoid caffeine and substitute with camomile tea, up your magnesium intake, and avoid stimulating conversations and exercise close to bedtime.
Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases, as well as viral and bacterial infections.
Exercise also increases the release of endorphins making it a great way to manage stress. Since stress negatively impacts our immune system, this is another way exercise can improve immune response.
At a minimum, adults should be getting at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like walking, jogging, or cycling) or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of high-intensity aerobic exercise (like running) every week. You should also be doing strength training at least twice a week.
For even more immune system benefits, exercise outside if you can. Spending time in nature has been shown to support good mood, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and support a healthy immune system.
You can read our other blogs and watch our videos for tips how to exercise at home with no equipment! or check out our fitness bootcamp holidays.
Drinking large quantities of alcohol is associated with a range of negative health effects, including weakened immune function. When you drink large amounts of alcohol, your body is preoccupied with trying to detox your system which takes away from the normal immune system function. This can lessen your body’s ability to fight infection and also makes it harder and longer to recover. If you like the odd tipple, limit your alcohol consumption to one drink (equivalent to a 4-ounce glass of wine) per day if you’re a woman, and two drinks per day if you’re a man. Moderation and a bit of discipline is the key!
Like alcohol, cigarette smoking can also affect immune health, as all toxins are bad for your immune system. Smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections (especially those of the lungs).
If you do smoke, there are many resources available to help you to give up, such as hypnosis, nicotine replacement products, and CBT.
We only have one body, so look after it!
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