If you are concerned about your immune system, I bet that you’re already doing a lot of things to protect your health. You wash your hands, wear a mask, order take-out and stay six feet from others as we navigate this new normal.
But what about protecting your health from the inside out?
Between a global pandemic and the regular winter flu season, there is no better time to consider how to strengthen your immune system.
Because the immune system is complex, you can’t just do one thing and expect it to be in tiptop shape. Sorry – there’s no magic supplement or a single shiny silver bullet to boost your immunity.
As a patient of mine, you’ll probably recognize these tips to boost your immunity. They’re the same things that I recommend to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This isn’t a coincidence!
Here are seven tips that can help your body battle pathogens.
1. Eat healthy!
You may have heard me say this once or twice before: Evidence shows that eating whole plants is the best thing we can do for our health.
Fruits and vegetables are good for your body! When you eat a diverse range of plants, you get a wide range of vitamins and minerals that your immune system requires to function well. (1)
Dietary fiber is essential for a healthy gut and helps keep inflammation in check. Legumes and whole grains are excellent and packed with fiber. (2)
- Eat a BIG SALAD once a day packed with leafy greens and raw veggies.
- Start your day with a green smoothie like this one. It’s a great way to load up on both fruits and veggies in one glass.
- Plan some legume-based meals like this Lentil Meatloaf or this comforting White Bean and Kale Soup.
- Be adventurous! Try new whole grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, or farro.
Eat more whole, plant-based foods for better health overall. Gradually increase the amount of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes you eat to build long-lasting habits.
2. Get enough sleep
When you were a student, did you ever cram for exams by doing all-nighters – and then spend your winter vacation nursing a cold? That happened to me more than once.
Not getting enough sleep can definitely have a negative impact on your health.
When you sleep, your body goes to work to strengthen your immune system. If your sleep is disrupted or shortened, you are cutting into important cell building time.
Adults should aim for 7 – 8 hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need 9 – 10 hours and younger children may need 10 or more hours. Thank goodness for naptime!
- Turn off all the electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Blue light rays decrease melatonin production, which makes it harder to fall asleep.
- Create a relaxing evening routine. Include soft music, meditation, gentle stretches, or drinking decaf tea.
- Keep a consistent schedule of when you go to sleep and when you wake up.
- Check out more sleep tips with Dr. Marc Braman and Dr. Viginia Gurley in these three minute videos: Part 1 and Part 2.
Good sleep habits require commitment. It may help to think about the reasons why it is important to get a good night’s sleep. Your immune system will be more robust and you might find that you are more productive during the day.
3. Drink lots of water
Staying hydrated is another key component for a robust, disease-fighting system.
Your immune system needs hydration to:
- Clean out your lymph nodes.
- Move those white blood cells throughout your highway of arteries.
- Send good nutrients to your organs.
To avoid complicated math calculating your hydration, just drink 8 -12 glasses of water each day.
- Start your morning with an eight-ounce glass of water.
- Enjoy your water by finding a cool water bottle or a fancy glass.
- You can get fluids with soups, herbal teas, and infused waters. Change it up to keep from getting bored.
The common wisdom is to drink when you’re thirsty, but I find that on busier days, I’m not tuned in to how thirsty I feel. It helps tracking yourself on a goal.
4. Take care of yourself
You are more likely to get sick when you are feeling stressed. First of all, you might give up healthy habits like sleeping well or eating healthy. But there are physiological reasons, too.
When you are stressed, your body creates stress hormones that direct your body’s resources away from fighting infections.
Also, stress slows the production of white blood cells. This further puts you at risk of catching a cold or other illnesses. (3)
- Plan things that you look forward to. It can help your stress level if you know you are going to do something fun in a day or two.
- Try meditation – it can help calm your body and brain.
- Take a few deep breaths several times a day when you are feeling frustrated.
- Go for a short walk when you need a break.
You will end up feeling overwhelmed if you try to cram too much into a busy schedule. Make it a priority to plan some down time – it’s important for your health.
5. Exercise regularly
Benefits of exercise include fighting cardiovascular disease, improving your mental health, maintaining a healthy weight and making you feel better about yourself.
Exercise also boosts your immune system. Moderate exercise reduces inflammation and can reduce the number of days that you are sick. (4)
The key here is to be consistent. If you don’t have a habit of regular exercise, start by walking around the block. Then increase your time and distance as you build tolerance. If you are already exercising, increase your heart rate for at least 30 minutes each day for a minimum of 5 days a week.
Here are some ideas to get in your exercise without going to the gym:
- Try a new home workout like this one.
- Go for a walk or run outside.
- Play with your kids or your dog.
- Have a dance party while doing the housework.
The best advice for implementing a new exercise routine is doing an activity that you enjoy. Try a few things out until you create a daily habit.
6. Get your Vitamin D
Recent studies show a correlation between Vitamin D levels and your ability to fight respiratory infections, including COVID-19. (5)
Low Vitamin D levels are common in the United States; approximately 41.6% of adults in the U.S. are deficient. (6)
I might suggest a supplement for you, but we won’t know for sure if you have a Vitamin D shortage unless you get a blood test. So talk to your doctor before taking a supplement.
Best Food Sources of Vitamin D:
- Fatty fish like salmon or tuna
- Foods fortified with Vitamin D like dairy milk, non-dairy milk, orange juice, tofu, and breakfast cereal
It’s always a good idea to eat a variety of foods to get your vitamins. If you suspect a deficiency, be sure to talk to us about it.
7. Talk to your doctor
One of the benefits of the direct primary care that we provide at Ark Family Health is that we have an ongoing discussion about creating a lifestyle that supports your long-term health.
Reach out when you:
- Have specific questions about supplements or health advice that you may be considering.
- Want dietary advice for the best nutrition for optimal health.
- Need help managing a chronic condition.
- Would like to check your blood levels for any vitamin deficiencies.
- Experience symptoms of illness.
We are here for you whatever your health concerns may be.
Immune System Takeaways
There is no “Easy Button” for strengthening your immune system. Level-up your immunity by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
It takes a lot to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep your immune system in tip-top shape. It can be a bit overwhelming. That’s why it’s best to start with just one of these tips and then incorporate the others. The hardest part is taking the first step!
And as always – never hesitate to reach out for help. I want each of you to have strong immune systems to fight off whatever germs come your way.
- Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis
- A dietary fiber-deprived gut microbiota degrades the colonic mucus barrier and enhances pathogen susceptibility
- Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry
- The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system
- Vitamin D and Inflammation: Potential Implications for Severity of Covid-19Vitamin D and Inflammation: Potential Implications for Severity of Covid-19
- Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults