Your immune system is your body’s first line of defense against illness. In the same way that a security system around your house would provide protection, your immune system uses a system of chemicals and proteins in your body to fight off viruses, harmful bacteria, infections and parasites. A stronger immune system means less chance of you getting sick.
Did you know there are ways you can boost your immune system to maximize its effects? Unlike a security system, your immune system isn’t plugged in and fully charged all the time. Life happens. We can get run down. Your immune system is something that should be nurtured.
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Doctors now believe that up to 80 percent of your immune system is in your gut. A Mediterranean-style diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and antioxidants may have a protective effect. It can reduce inflammation and encourage good gut bacteria that helps establish a strong immune system. Focus on fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and healthy fats. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and yogurt or kefir are also beneficial. Be kind to your liver too. It’s responsible for filtering the blood, breaking down fats, and removing excess cholesterol and toxins. Kale, broccoli and cabbage can help increase your liver’s ability to naturally detox the body.
2) Wash your hands frequently.
This is one practice we should keep up for the rest of our lives. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs. Scrub for a good 20 seconds. Count if you need to slow yourself down. You can also sing ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or two verses of your favorite song.
3) Work out on a regular basis.
There are several theories as to why this helps. Physical activity may help flush out bacteria and clear the airways. We know it slows down the release of stress hormones. It also decreases your chance of developing some diseases, such as heart disease and fatty liver disease, and it keeps your bones strong. You don’t need to overdo exercise either. Too many rigorous workouts can actually weaken the immune system and leave you vulnerable to flu and viruses.
4) Shower after working out.
In addition to smelling bad, all the perspiration left on your skin allows bacteria to grow. Breakouts aren’t the worst of it. Sweat helps to breed funguses, like yeast infections. And any abrasions on your skin are prone to infections.
5) Take vitamins.
Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting cell function and protecting against environmental oxidative stress (free radicals and pollutants). The best way to get Vitamin C is through oranges, strawberries, spinach, kiwi and grapefruit. Vitamin D can enhance your immune response and may protect you from respiratory conditions. It’s often called “the sunshine vitamin” because sunlight is a great source, however this depends on your skin’s melanin level. Only 10 minutes of sun exposure daily produces plenty of vitamin D for fair-skinned individuals. No more or you are susceptible to skin cancer. Those with dark brown skin tones who never burn would be better off taking a vitamin D supplement. The Cleveland Clinic also recommends Vitamin B6 (found in chicken, cold water fish like salmon and tuna, hummus and green veggies) and Vitamin E (found in nuts, seeds and spinach).
6) Reduce your stress level.
Yes, easier said than done. However, here’s why it’s important: Stress affects your body’s immune response. It causes you to produce extra levels of cortisol and cytokines, which trigger inflammation. In can decrease the number of white blood cells available to fight infection, leaving you at risk for cold sores and colds. In addition, people who are stressed are probably not getting enough sleep and eating right so they are neglecting other healthy habits that boost immunity.
7) Take up yoga and meditation.
This calms your nervous system, helping to reduce inflammation.
8) Practice deep breathing techniques.
This simple act of slow, controlled breathing from the diaphragm is something you can do anywhere. It’s a terrific way to lower cortisol levels, lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.
9) Make sure you get enough sleep.
It’s a natural reboot to your system. Did you know that your chance of coming down with a cold is affected by how much you sleep? In a UCSF study from 2019, researchers found that poor sleep (less than six hours per night) made someone four times more likely to catch a cold. It was the number one factor for determining if someone got sick – more than age or stress level. Your body relies on a full night’s rest to replenish cells and proteins.
10) Employ positive thinking.
Fake it until you believe it. Your mental state really does influence your physical health. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that positive thinkers were less likely than “negative” people to have a heart attack, although they had risk factors and a family history of artery disease. A University of Kansas study found that smiling – even if you have to fake it – reduced blood pressure in stressful situations. Negative emotions can weaken immune response so reassess your outlook. Be grateful.