When it comes to fighting illness, everyday precautions such as washing your hands often and avoiding sick people are key. But experts suggest that boosting your immune system may also give you an edge in staying healthy. Here are three simple immune boosting strategies you can implement right now.
- Focus on Food – Eighty percent of your immune system is in the gut, so when it’s healthy, you tend to be able to fight off infections faster and better. When your gut isn’t healthy, it can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to infection. The Mediterranean style of eating, which includes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, found in foods such as fatty fish, nuts and olive oil is recommended.
This eating pattern is high in nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc and other antioxidants shown to help reduce inflammation and fight infection. Adults between the ages of 65 and 79 who followed a Mediterranean type of diet, along with taking a daily 400 IU vitamin D supplement for a year, showed small increases in disease-fighting cells such as T cells, according to a 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
It’s also important to limit meat and processed and fried foods, all of which are more inflammatory in nature. It’s also beneficial to include fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and kefir, in your daily diet. These can help build up the good bacteria in your gut, which, in turn, supports a healthy gut and immune system.
- Limit Stress – There’s a strong link between your immune system and your mental health. If you suffer from chronic stress or anxiety, your body produces stress hormones that can suppress your immune system. Research done at Carnegie Mellon University has found that people who are stressed are more susceptible to developing the common cold.
In one study,published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 276 healthy adults were exposed to the cold virus, then monitored in quarantine for five days. Those who were stressed were more likely to produce cytokines, molecules that trigger inflammation, and were about twice as likely to get sick. In addition, people who are stressed are less likely to pay attention to other healthy habits, like eating right and getting enough sleep, which can affect immunity.
Although you can’t avoid stress in your life, you can adopt strategies to help you manage it better. A 2012 study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at adults 50 and older and found that those who either completed a daily exercise routine or performed mindfulness meditation techniques were less likely to get sick with a respiratory infection than subjects in a control group, and if they did get sick, they missed fewer days of work.
- Get Plenty of Sleep – When it comes to your health, sleep plays an important role. While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, not getting enough of it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to a bad cold or case of the flu.
Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you’re not getting enough.
To keep your immune system functioning at its best, you should aim for the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This will help keep your immune system in fighting shape, and also protect you from other health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a busy work week or other factors, try to make up for the lost sleep with naps. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.