- It’s our immune system that determines how well we can fight off the common cold or a more serious viral infection like COVID-19. By implementing the following habits you can be confident that you’re taking a well-rounded, research-based approach to boost your immune function.
- Adequate and appropriate nutrition is essential for cells to function optimally, including those that make up the immune system. A few everyday foods that have been shown to be immune boosting powerhouses include garlic, ginger, and blueberries.
- Research shows that Vitamin C and Vitamin D can have a positive effect on the prevention and treatment of the common cold, and may reduce the severity and duration of certain viral infections like COVID-19.
- Moderate exercise decreases inflammation and improves immune regulation by boosting antibodies and white blood cells critical for fighting infection and disease. Walking, running, calisthenics, and yoga have all been proven to boost immune function.
- A meta-analysis of over 300 studies demonstrated a direct relationship between both acute and chronic physiological stressors and the immune system. In short, when we’re stressed, the body’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, making it more susceptible to infections. Meditation, journaling, and virtual socialization are simple ways to improve immunity.
- Alcohol consumption has been frequently associated with decreased immune function. Kava can be a safe and effective alternative to alcohol for virtual happy hours and stress reduction.
- According to sleepfoundation.org, skimping on sleep may cause your body to create and release fewer anti-inflammatory cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, thereby manifesting a negative immune response. To maintain good sleep hygiene, stick to a bed time that allows for at least 8 hours of sleep, turn devices off an hour before bedtime, and avoid caffeine, exercise, and napping too late in the day.
Maintaining a healthy immune is our best defense against sickness and disease. Now more than ever, it is critical that we take every measure to ensure our body’s biological defense system is functioning optimally. Taking proactive precautions like washing hands and social distancing are certainly effective against the spread of germs, but ultimately it is our immune system that determines how well we can fight off the common cold or a more serious viral infection. So what exactly can we do to boost immunity? Fortunately there’s plenty, but it’s important to differentiate between myth and science. By implementing the following four habits you can be confident that you’re taking a well-rounded, research-based approach to boost your immune function.
1. Maintain Good Nutrition
It’s great to order take-out in support of your favorite local establishments, but don’t let these unusual times be an excuse to get complacent. Eating processed, nutrient-deficient foods is an undeniable detriment to the immune system. Eating healthy whole foods, on the other hand, is one of the best ways to support immune function. Make it easy on yourself by making a grocery list before you go food shopping and commit to only buying what’s on it. When you arrive, stick to the perimeter of the store where the fruit, vegetables, and meat are located. This is a great way to maintain social distance from other shoppers and it also ensures that you’ll stay away from the junk food in the center aisles. Adequate and appropriate nutrition is essential for cells to function optimally, including those that make up the immune system. A few everyday foods that have been shown to be immune boosting powerhouses include garlic, ginger, and blueberries. Get creative and try making your own superfood smoothie at home.
If you want to go above and beyond, nutritional supplements may provide some added benefit. While there is no substitute for a healthy diet, a high-quality multivitamin is a great way to make sure all your bases are covered. It is important, however, to remember that the supplement market is saturated with misinformation and poor quality products. Stick to vitamins, minerals, and essential oils that have a strong history of therapeutic use backed by scientific research. Vitamin C, for example, has been the go-to immune boosting supplement for years. Research shows that Vitamin C can have a positive effect on the prevention and treatment of the common cold, and may reduce the duration of certain viral infections. Vitamin D has been proven to have direct anti-viral effect on enveloped viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Our bodies naturally produce Vitamin D with sun exposure, so try to spend at least twenty minutes up to two hours a day outside, the latter if you have a darker complexion.
2. Stay Active
The positive impact of exercise on immune function is well-documented and widely known. There is no question that being active improves overall metabolic health via a number of pathways. For one, habitual exercise equates to a higher daily caloric burn and the maintenance of a healthy body weight. It also decreases inflammation and improves immune regulation by boosting antibodies and white blood cells critical for fighting infection and disease. In addition to its effect on physical health, exercise has been shown to regulate the hormones that contribute to anxiety and stress. This doesn’t mean you have to turn your garage into a CrossFit box or start training as an elite marathoner. In fact, taxing the body with overtraining has been shown to have an inverse effect on immune defense. A moderate mix of aerobic activity and resistance training is all you need to support a healthy immune system. Of course, social distancing protocols and the recent closure of fitness centers and some public outdoor spaces can make staying active feel impossible. It’s not. Here’s how to keep your body and immune system in tip-top shape with little or no equipment and without leaving the neighborhood.
- Just walk. - While seemingly effortless, just 30 minutes of walking a day has been shown to improve immune parameters, most notably for neutrophil and natural killer blood cell counts. It’s also a great reason to get out of the house and grab some fresh air while keeping socially distant. In fact, getting in those daily steps could be a way to socialize with family or friends that you otherwise haven’t been able to spend time with. Make a plan to meet at an open-air public place and chat while you stroll. Just be sure to maintain adequate separation and if possible, wear a mask to prevent the spread of germs. 30 minutes twice a day is all you need to hit the recommended 10,000 steps and reap the immune-boosting benefits of walking.
- Speed it up. - Walking is great, but if you want to actually break a sweat, try going for a run. Whether you choose a treadmill, trail, or sidewalk, moderate steady-state cardio has been shown to stimulate the immune system. Running, in particular, boosts immune function by circulating protective cells through the body faster, to attack and eliminate bacteria, viruses and fungi. All you need in order to get a solid running workout is a pair of shoes and a little free time--something most of us have in abundance right now.
- Move your own bodyweight. - Your muscles don’t have to suffer just because the gym is closed. If you prefer to focus your attention on resistance training, there’s plenty you can do without leaving the living room. Pushups, air squats, lunges, sit ups, planks, and pull ups are examples of classic bodyweight exercises requiring little or no equipment while producing an incredible workout. This group of core exercises hits every major muscle group, thereby promoting development of muscle mass and the maintenance of bone density. Research has demonstrated that a single strength training session can induce important changes in immune defense, including an increase in the total number of circulating immune cells.
- Breathe and stretch. - If you’re looking for a way to move, clear your head, and find focus without ample space, yoga is a great option. Clinical research has found yoga to be effective at reducing the impact of stress on psychological and physiological parameters, as well as the immune system. If you’re an experienced practitioner, a quick self-guided session may be all you need. For those who prefer a teacher’s guidance, YouTube has an endless library of yoga videos, all available for free. This is a perfect way to create a routine and develop your practice. Try easing into it with a program like Yoga with Adrienne’s “30 Days of Yoga”.
Whichever modality you choose, by incorporating a moderate amount of daily activity, you can rest assured your body’s defense system will be well taken care of. There’s plenty of time to binge on Netflix. Just make sure you move a bit first.
3. Manage Stress
Work. Health. Relationships. Triggers for stress are everywhere, and they can negatively impact immune function if not managed accordingly. A meta-analysis of over 300 studies demonstrated a direct relationship between both acute and chronic physiological stressors and the immune system. In short, when we’re stressed, the body’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, making it more susceptible to infections. Incorporating stress management practices into your daily life will ensure that you are managing frustration, anxiety, and worry in a manner that supports a healthy immune system. Fortunately, doing so can be quite simple.
For a focused approach backed by a wealth of scientific research, try meditation. There are many ways to meditate, but if you’re looking for a quick path to calmness, simply focus on your breath and observe any thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they pass through the present moment. Even a few minutes of mindfulness practice is effective at increasing clarity and reducing stress. For a more structured method, check out websites like mindful.org and zenhabits.net. There are also apps like Headspace, Calm, and Waking Up that provide excellent guided meditations for both beginners and seasoned meditators. Mind still wandering? Try practicing mindfulness by gratitude journaling. Just take a few minutes each day to write down what you’re grateful for. Quickly jotting down three things before bed may bring to light a new perspective on what is important to you and what you truly appreciate in your life.
Another quick fix for stress is socialization. Fortunately, modern technology like Skype and FaceTime make it easy to communicate with friends and family anywhere in the world. Miss your friends? Try scheduling a virtual happy hour. Video conferencing apps like Zoom provide an excellent platform for meet-ups with multiple people. If you’re feeling creative, turn it into a trivia night. If some relaxing chit chat sounds better, make yourself a cocktail and catch up with friends.
So where does alcohol fit in? A drink here or there won’t hurt, but don’t go too crazy. A 2017 research study demonstrated that heavy alcohol consumption was “associated with a decreased frequency of lymphocytes and an increased risk of both bacterial and viral infections.” When it comes to taking the edge off, a glass of wine and good conversation can hit the spot. Just remember that moderation is key.
Of course, there are alternatives to alcohol for those seeking all-natural stress and anxiety management. Kava, for example, has a history of use for its stress-relieving properties dating back thousands of years. Traditionally, it was consumed in a brew derived from the kava root. While possible, this method is certainly not the most practical. A safe and effective alternative is a kava spray like 1Hour Break. By spraying it under your tongue, letting it absorb, and swallowing it, you’ll be able to feel relief in approximately five minutes. The concentrated formula and pocket-sized bottle was designed so you can reduce stress & anxiety anytime the need arises.
4. Get Some Sleep
While it may sound simple, getting enough sleep is something that many of us find difficult. However, the importance of sleep and its effect on the immune system shouldn’t be ignored. According to sleepfoundation.org, skimping on sleep may cause your body to create and release fewer anti-inflammatory cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, thereby manifesting a negative immune response. Scientists conducting sleep research in Germany found that a good night’s sleep is essential for the production of immune cells, known as T cells, which help the body to combat intracellular pathogens. Despite such research, the CDC reported in 2016 that one-third of Americans aren’t getting enough sleep. Fortunately, there are measures you can implement to achieve the 7-9 hours recommended for most adults.
In his book Why We Sleep, sleep scientist Dr. Matthew Walker points out that sticking to a sleep schedule is the single most important action one can take to maintain good sleep hygiene. To do this, it’s important to be consistent in what time you go to sleep and when you wake up. Since waking time is dictated by external factors like work, kids, and appointments it usually isn’t flexible. Bed time, on the other hand, typically is. Sticking to a bed time that allows for 8 hours of sleep is where most people lack discipline. To help with this, Dr. Walker recommends setting an alarm at night just as you might do in the morning. When that alarm goes off, you know it’s time to turn off Netflix and get to bed.
In fact, to best regulate sleep/wake cycles, television and other screen time should be reduced at least 60 minutes prior to bed. This is because devices emit blue light that suppress the body’s natural secretion of melatonin, a hormone responsible for making us sleepy. If you can’t get away from your favorite gadget, try installing f.lux, a program that filters out blue light. The “Night Shift” function on IOS mobile devices serves the same purpose. Dr. Walker’s other tips for good sleep include avoiding caffeine, napping, and exercise too late in the day, and to take a hot bath before bed. Dial in these habits for quality sleep and you can rest assured that your immune system will be functioning at its best.
Cover All Your Bases
Staying healthy and maintaining a strong immune system has never been more important. With so many externalities out of our control, it’s imperative to focus on the lifestyle factors you can directly impact. That means prioritizing good nutrition, staying active, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep. Covering all your bases and taking responsibility for your own health is the best defense when it comes to fighting off sickness and disease.