How strong is your immune system?
Although it’s always a good idea to keep your defenses strong, you may be thinking about your immune system, even more, these days as we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having a robust immune system doesn’t mean you won’t catch the virus, but it can help you defeat it more quickly with less severe symptoms. It can also help keep you protected from other types of illnesses.
With that in mind, we have seven suggestions to help keep your immune system in top condition. Stay well.
1. Get 7 to 8 Hours of Sleep Per Night
Sleep is critically important for keeping your immune system strong.
Eric J. Olson, M.D., writing for the Mayo Clinic, notes that a lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to getting sick from exposure to a virus. It can also affect how fast you recover from sicknesses.
Studies support this assertion. In 2012, researchers reported that sleep helps distribute T-cells — powerful immune cells — to the lymph nodes, promotes the interaction between immune cells and encourages an increase in specific immune cells after vaccination.
Other studies have shown a link between sleep deprivation and an impaired immune system, with one study finding that severe sleep loss was similar to stress in how it challenged the immune system.
- Keep your room dark and cold — light interrupts sleep
- Leave all technological gadgets out of the bedroom, including TVs, computers, laptops, and cellphones, as they emit blue light which can keep you awake
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine for at least 4 hours before bed
- Practice a relaxing, quiet activity before bed, like listening to calming music, stretching, taking a hot bath or reading
- Make sure your mattress is supportive and comfortable; most need to be replaced after about 8 years
2. Get Moving
Exercising regularly helps keep your immune system in good working order. Don’t use this virus as an excuse to lie around the house, unless you are feeling sick.
According to a 2019 study, regular exercise boosts the immune system’s defense activity, reduces chronic inflammation, improves immune regulation, delays the effects of aging on the immune system and helps reduce the risk of illness.
Even more importantly, when facing the coronavirus, which is known to specifically target the lungs, regular exercise helps flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, keeping the lungs stronger and more resistant to illness.
Regular, moderate exercise has been shown to have the best outcomes on the immune system. Examples include:
- A daily 30- to 45-minute walk
- A bike ride a few times a week
- Going to the gym every other day
- Playing a sport regularly
3. Soak Up the Sun
We’ve all been taught to avoid the sun as much as possible to reduce the risk of skin cancer and to delay skin aging. However, the sun is the major contributor to the levels of vitamin D in our bodies. Without sun exposure, we can have a hard time getting enough vitamin D, which is critical for a strong immune system.
Study after study shows that vitamin D is involved in immune function and that a vitamin D deficiency is associated with a weaker immune system and increased susceptibility to infection.
Lack of vitamin D has also been found to be one of the main factors behind respiratory symptoms, which are associated with COVID-19.
Get out in the sun for at least 15 to 30 minutes a day. Getting a little sun exposure also helps regulate your body clock, which can help you sleep better.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet
It’s always wise to eat a healthy diet, but what does this mean in regards to boosting the immune system?
Ensure that you’re getting enough of those foods that support immune function, including antioxidants — which are abundant in fruits and vegetables — and healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in fatty fish, nuts and flaxseed.
It also helps to drink plenty of water, which flushes waste out of your body and gives cells what they need to operate efficiently. Ideally, aim for eight glasses of water per day.
Some particularly powerful foods when it comes to supporting the immune system include:
- Citrus fruits: High in vitamin C, which increases immune cells that fight infection
- Red bell peppers: Also high in vitamin C
- Spinach: Packed with antioxidants and beta-carotene
- Yogurt: Includes probiotics, which may stimulate the immune system
- Almonds: Rich in vitamin E, which helps support immune function
- Green tea: Contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that enhances the immune system
- Broccoli: Packed with vitamins A, C, and E which all support a strong immune system
- Shellfish: Rich in zinc, which is critical for a strong immune system; choose crab, clams, mussels, and lobster
- Mushrooms: Many of these contain compounds linked with supercharging the immune system; turkey tail mushrooms, in particular, contain polysaccharide-K (PSK), which stimulates the immune system; there’s also evidence that the shiitake mushroom boosts immunity
5. Shed That Stress
It’s tough not to be stressed out in the middle of a pandemic, but it’s important to try to stay calm because chronic stress can suppress the immune system.
In a review of more than 300 studies, researchers found that brief periods of stress suppressed cellular immunity, and chronic stress suppressed both cellular and humoral immunity. Humoral immunity is associated with antibodies in bodily fluids.
Other research shows that psychological stress dysregulates parts of the immune system so that it can’t fight off antigens (disease-causing microbes). As a result, we become more susceptible to infections. During stress, the body also releases the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to reduce immune activity.
It’s normal to feel stressed throughout the day, so it’s best to schedule stress-relieving activities. These can be any activities that distract you from your current stressors. Some good options include:
- Daily exercise
- A walk in a park or other green area
- Time with friends and loved ones
- Music or art therapy
- Time spent with a favorite hobby like knitting, golfing, woodworking or coloring
- Yoga and/or tai chi
- Time spent with a beloved pet
6. Consider Herbal Supplements
You should always talk to your doctor before adding herbal supplements to your daily regimen to be sure they won’t interact with any other medications you may be taking. Once you’re in the clear, consider the following options for their immune-boosting properties. Be sure to try only one at a time to see how it works for you.
- Garlic: The best way to get more of this important spice is to simply add more garlic to your diet. If not possible, consider a garlic supplement. It has natural antiviral and antibiotic properties and is a natural decongestant as well.
- Astragalus: This herb is considered an “adaptogenic,” which means it helps the body adapt to stress. It promotes a healthy resistance to disease while supporting healthy immune function.
- Black elderberry: This herb has natural anthocyanins and other flavonoids that help support the immune system and fight disease. It also has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
- Echinacea: You’ll find natural immune-system-stimulators in this herb, which helps the body produce natural killer cells and other sickness-fighters. It may be particularly helpful for those with low immune function at the outset.
- Olive leaf: You’ve probably heard that olive oil helps support heart health. Olive leaf has an active component called “oleuropein” that supports cardiovascular health. This herb also helps maintain immune function.
- Oregano: Again, ideally add more of this to your diet. Otherwise, you can choose supplements. Oregano is a natural source of disease-fighting antioxidants and helps support a healthy microbiome, which has direct positive effects on the immune system.
- Ginger: You may think of this one first for relieving digestive discomfort, which it can do, but it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been found in studies to enhance the immune system’s response.
- Turmeric: This bright orange-yellow spice gives curries their distinct flavor, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties, with scientific studies showing it can help prevent illness.
7. Spend Time Out in Nature
During the coronavirus epidemic, many of us are without our normal means of entertainment. Movie theaters and restaurants are shut down, and concerts and other events have been canceled.
Take this opportunity to get out into nature more often. Take a hike, go camping, take a float down the river, do some mountain biking, or take a drive somewhere new and go for a walk. It can give you and your family something fun to do while also boosting your immune systems. Studies have found that whenever we spend time in nature, immune cells benefit.
In 2015, researchers reported that spending time in nature protected against a range of diseases, including depression, diabetes, obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and many more. Scientists found that the answer lies in nature’s ability to enhance the functioning of the immune system.
“When we are in nature in that relaxed state,” said lead author Ming Kuo, the body “invests resources toward the immune system.”
For your complete guide to boosting your immune system, make sure you check out our 14-Day Immune Health Quick Start Program, here!
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