Our immune system defends the body against illness and disease. This complex system consists of skin cells, bone marrow, blood, organs, and tissues. that protect our body against harmful pathogens (like viruses and bacteria), and can limit damage from sunburn and cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.
To best protect our body from harm, every part of the immune system needs to perform the right way. The best way we can ensure this happens is to practice the good-for-you behaviours our immune system runs on every day. Here are 6 habits that we recommend implementing into everyday life.
1. Daily Physical Activity
Physical activity increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure), which makes it a positive factor in stress management.
Frontiers in Immunology show that regular exercise lowers the risk of developing chronic diseases (like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease), and also viral and bacterial infections. The National Institutes of Health recommend exercise to strengthen our immune system and potentially protect against viruses like COVID-19.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests adults should be getting at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise — like jogging / power walking, or cycling — or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes), of high-intensity aerobic exercise every week.
Strength training at least twice a week is also great for our health, strengthening our bones, avoiding disease, and improving the absorption of essential nutrients.
For even more immune system benefits, participate in outdoor exercise, research suggests that frequent time in nature has been proven to support our mood and immunity while also reducing inflammation. Sunshine also boosts vitamin D in the body, another huge factor for immunity.
Did you know that the sights and sounds of nature is known to activate the parasympathetic, often known as the “rest and digest” side, of the autonomic nervous system, which plays an important role in improving immunity? Get outside more!
2. Choose Nutritious Foods & Stay Hydrated
The nutrients we get from food, particularly plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices are an important factor in keeping our immune system functioning properly due to slowing the growth of food-spoiling bacteria and antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.
Protein is also critical for immune health. The amino acids help to build and maintain immune cells, and avoiding protein may lower your body’s ability to fight infections. It is wise to get your protein from plant sources like legumes, nuts, and seeds whenever possible. Poultry and seafood are also good choices, but try to limit your consumption of red meat, like unprocessed beef, pork, and lamb. Avoid processed bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and cold cuts.
When it comes to developing a diet that supports good immune health, focus on incorporating more plants and plant-based foods. Add fruits and veggies to soups and stews, smoothies, and salads. Carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, strawberries and citrus fruits are all great sources of vitamin C and A, while seeds and nuts provide protein, zinc, and vitamin E, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Be sure to hydrate with plenty of healthy fluids, and limit dehydrating, immune-suppressive drinks like sugary beverages and alcohol. Dehydration can negatively affect our health and our physical performance, mood, focus and kidney & heart function.
3. Deep Restorative Sleep
Our magnificent body heals and regenerates while we sleep, making deep rest essential for a healthy immune response.
Sleep is a time when your body regulates key immune cells and molecules like cytokines (a type of protein that can either fight or promote inflammation), interleukin 12 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine), and T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates immune response).
When we don’t get enough sleep, our immune system doesn't react well to these things, making it less able to defend the body against harmful germs and making us more likely to face illness. Sleep deprivation also increases cortisol levels, which is also not good for immune function.
4. Avoid Alcohol and Cigarette Toxins
To fully optimise our immune system, we must try to limit or avoid alcohol, and stop smoking if this is a current habit.
High alcohol consumption is linked to a range of negative health effects, including lowered immune function. When you consume a lot of alcohol, the body is too busy trying to detoxify your system to bother with normal immune system function.
Chronic alcohol use can lower levels of B cells and T cells in our body, thereby weakening the ability to fight infection and slowing recovery. Therefore, people who drink heavily face a greater risk of pneumonia, liver disease, and some cancers.
Scientific guidelines suggest limiting alcohol consumption to one drink (equivalent to a 4 ounce glass of wine) per day if you’re a woman, and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
Like alcohol, cigarette smoking can affect immune health. Anything that’s a toxin can compromise your immune system.
In particular, the chemicals released by cigarette smoke: carbon monoxide, nicotine, and nitrogen oxides, can interfere with function and growth of immune cells, like T & B cells, and cytokines.
Smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections - especially those of the lungs, like pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis, and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease in which our immune system attacks our joints).
5. Keep Control of Chronic Conditions
Chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease can affect our immune system and increase the risk of infection. If someone who has type 2 diabetes doesn't manage their blood sugar properly, a chronic, low-grade inflammatory response can occur that weakens the body’s defence.
Similarly, people with asthma are more likely to catch and in more severe cases actually die from the flu, and often experience worse flu and severe asthma symptoms as a result of the infection.
If we manage chronic conditions better, we can free up more reserves to help the body fight off infection. Be sure to stay on top of any medications, healthy habits, and doctor visits that help to keep your symptoms under control. Your immune system will thank you.
6. Aim for Mental Balance
When cortisol levels are always high, it essentially blocks the immune system from kicking into gear and doing its job properly to protect our body against threats from germs, viruses, and bacteria.
There are many effective stress-reduction techniques. We recommend meditation (apps like Headspace and Calm), journaling, and performing any activity that you enjoy more often.
Don’t underestimate the power of nurturing relationships. Research from Health and Social Behaviour sciences describes how social ties may lead to a greater sense of social support, which therefore leads to reducing levels of stress hormones.
At InnerHealth we prioritise the immune system and digestive health so that all of our clients and customers have somewhere to rely on when it comes to taking control of symptoms that are causing health issues for people. You can check out our shop with over 40 specialist products that are 100% organic and aimed towards naturally enhancing our health and improving digestion.