During these times the topic of having a strong immune system seems more popular than ever. Our immune systems do so much within our bodies and it’s very important to keep them operating at their best. The good news is we can strengthen our immune systems with some simple life style choices at any age.
Think of the immune system as a network of systems working together to promote well-being. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand that to truly strengthen your body’s immune system, it’s best to pair a healthy diet WITH a healthy lifestyle. There are three main topics we’ll look at diet/nutrition, exercise/physical activity and lifestyle habits.
To build a strong immune system we need a diet of full of healthy foods, herbs and spices rich in vitamins and minerals. Focus on trying to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Foods full of color mean their full of vitamins and minerals. Typically the color of food illustrates the vitamins it carries which is why it’s good to try to eat several different colors each day. Some specific examples of fruits and vegetables that are particularly good for our immune systems are berries, citrus, apples, leafy lettuce, spinach, bell peppers, and beets.
Our body also requires protein to help its immune system function. You can support your immune system by eating a variety of lean protein –turkey, skinless chicken, lean cuts of beef, oysters, tuna, and salmon. Whole grains also provide B and E vitamins that aren’t commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Try to eat bread or pasta made from whole wheat flour, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and barley.
Herbs and spices can help your body repair damaged cells and strengthen your ability to think, heal and function. They help support the body’s natural resistance and are high in immune-boosting antioxidants. Examples are turmeric, ginger, oregano, cinnamon, echinacea and ginseng tea. It’s also good to look into adding supplements like probiotics and vitamins that can help fill in the gaps where your diet may be missing key nutrients. It’s best to get what you need from food first, always discuss with your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine.
Seniors especially need to stay hydrated. Experts recommend at least eight glasses of water per day to keep mucous membranes moist and lower the chance of flu or colds. Herbal tea and broth-based soups can count toward your daily fluid intake.
Regular physical activity can strengthen your immune system and help your body fight off infections and viruses. Exercise increases blood circulation and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise causes change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body's immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before.
The current recommendation is at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This can be done by walking, classes (on TV or online), or a variety at home exercises.
Other lifestyle habits to be intentional about are washing your hands thoroughly and often to help prevent the spread of disease-causing germs from one person to another. Be sure to lather hands with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing with water. (before, during, and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet, before and after caring for someone who is ill, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing). Managing stress is another important aspect of immune health. Studies show that chronic stress takes a toll on immune health and hinders your immune system’s ability to fight inflammation and infections. Participating in enjoyable activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi and deep breathing exercises can have positive effects on health.
Connect with others. Social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus outbreak do not have to keep you from feeling close to the ones you love. Isolation may lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which can compromise immune health. So find creative ways to stay connected: call, text, or use video technology to communicate with loved ones.
Get plenty of sleep! Insufficient sleep may hinder your immune system’s ability to respond to infection and inflammation. Practice good sleep habits such as going to bed at the same time each night, maintain a bedtime ritual, limit caffeine and alcohol intake, regular exercise and proper diet
Spend time outside! Vitamin D also helps strengthen the immune system. If your vitamin D level is low, your doctor may prescribe supplements or recommend an over-the-counter multivitamin. Spending additional time outdoors allows your body to naturally convert vitamin D from sun exposure. Head outside when the sun isn’t too strong to avoid a sunburn and use protection
As we’ve discussed, the immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It requires a lifestyle of healthy choices to keep it strong!