With Winter here now is the time to boost your immune health.
Simply said, it’s your immune system whose job it is to defend our body against illness and disease. On the whole, your body is incredible and your immune system does a great job of defending you against diseases, but sometimes, it can fail.
Below are some tips to strengthen your immunity, which can easily be incorporated in your daily routine.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
There are so many questions about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, as you need to figure out what works for you and is suited to your body. However, following a few general guidelines can help you take the step towards keeping your immune system strong and healthy.
- Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
- Get adequate sleep
- Try to minimise stress
- Exercise regularly: Exercise increases your resilience so you can fight off infection. Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases (like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease), as well as viral and bacterial infections.
- Don’t smoke: The chemicals released by cigarette smoke, carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides, and cadmium, can interfere with growth and function of immune cells, like cytokines, T cells, and B cells. Smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections (especially those of the lungs, like pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis).
- Drink alcohol in moderation: We all love a drink every now and then, so when it comes to alcohol, practice moderation. Drinking high amounts of alcohol is associated with a range of negative health effects, including lowered immune function. When you drink high amounts of alcohol, your body is too busy trying to detoxify your system to bother with normal immune system function and can weaken your body’s ability to fight infection.
- Take steps to avoid infection such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly
Get enough sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely tied. In fact, inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness. In a study, in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night.
When you sleep, your body produces and distributes key immune cells like cytokines (a type of protein that can either fight or promote inflammation), T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates immune response), and interleukin 12 (apro-inflammatory cytokine) (6). When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system may not do these things as well, making it less able to defend your body against harmful invaders and making you more likely to get sick.
Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours sleep each night as getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. There are many tips you can incorporate into your sleep routine to help you get a better nights rest, for more info read our blog here.
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The nutrients you get from food, are essential to keeping your immune system functioning properly, according to Yufang Lin, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, “Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight off infection,” Dr. Lin says .
Below are some immunity boosters you can add to your diet.
- Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes: These are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens. Some Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
- Spices: Clove, oregano, thyme cinnamon and cumin contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of food-spoiling bacteria.
- Garlic: Allicin, a compound in garlic, is well-known for its ability to boost the immune system. The most benefit comes from eating one-half of a raw garlic clove daily. If you can’t stomach raw garlic, the next best thing is to roast it.
- Prebiotics: Robust gut bacteria protect us against infection. Keep those bacteria healthy with prebiotics that contain fibre. Excellent sources of prebiotics are Jerusalem artichokes, green bananas or plantains, Jicama root and asparagus.
- Antioxidants: Stress can lead to lowered immunity and make you more prone to illness. Colourful fruits and vegetables including berries, carrots and spinach have antioxidants that protect you against oxidative stress, which translates to a stronger immune system.
Add fruits and veggies to soups and stews, smoothies, and salads, or eat them as snacks to boost your immunity daily.
According to a review published in the October 2015 issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of as the steroid hormone cortisol. The body relies on hormones like cortisol during short-term bouts of stress. Cortisol has a beneficial effect of actually preventing the immune system from responding before the stressful event is over (so your body can react to the immediate stressor). But when cortisol levels are constantly high, it essentially blocks the immune system from kicking into gear and doing its job to protect the body against potential threats from germs like viruses and bacteria.
Meditation is a great daily activity you can do to minimise stress. Five minutes a day of guided meditation, or simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath, can make a difference. Meditation lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, reduces anxiety and can improve sleep.
Other activities such as journaling, hobbies (fishing, golf) and exercise can reduce stress everyday. Exercise increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure) making it a great way to manage stress.
Strengthening your immunity does take several dietary and lifestyle changes, but simply tweaking your daily routine can help dramatically in naturally improving your immunity.