When it functions properly, the immune system – an intricate network comprised of cells in the skin, tissues, blood, bone marrow, and organs – defends the body against illnesses that result from the body coming into contact with harmful foreign bacteria and pathogens. It also works to lessen the damage caused by afflictions that are not transmittable, such as cancer or sunburn. As its name implies, the immune system is intricately associated with all parts of the body and mind and thus requires all connected parts to remain in harmony for optimal function.
While a resilient immune system helps reduce the likelihood of getting sick, it doesn’t guarantee invulnerability; however, diet and lifestyle may have profound effects on immune function. Simple adjustments to either one can sometimes be easier said than done – like getting more sleep, eating more balanced meals, or spending more time outdoors – but, when established into a regular routine, they may potentially have a positive impact on well-being.
The most basic way to prevent illness is regular and proper hand washing, avoiding touching the face with unclean hands, and taking precautions against contagion. Read on to learn other ways to support immunity through diet and lifestyle, and discover the supplements reputed to support immune function.
How To Naturally Support Immunity Through Lifestyle
Address Your Cigarette Smoking Habit: Cigarette smoke releases chemicals like cadmium, carbon monoxide, nicotine, and nitrogen oxides, which can obstruct immune cell development and function. For this reason, it is also recommended to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking is also known to exacerbate not only infections but also rheumatoid arthritis. Various options are available for help with curbing the habit, such as nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, psychotherapy, and behavioral therapy.
Get Some Sun: Vitamin D helps the body produce antibodies – proteins that identify germs and protect against potential infection. It is believed that spending even 10-15 minutes in sunlight encourages the body to generate sufficient levels of Vitamin D, low levels of which can potentially impact heart health, cognition, and respiration.
Maintain Regular, Moderate Exercise And A Healthy Body Weight: A consistent workout schedule helps regulate and improve body weight, blood pressure, and heart health, while also helping to prevent a diverse range of illnesses. By stimulating better circulation, exercising promotes the free movement of immune cells through the body, so they can perform more proficiently.
Though the intensity of a prolonged rigorous exercise routine is thought to have the potential to compromise immunity, partaking in moderately-intense exercise is believed to improve it. Studies have shown that those who are active tend to contract infections or chronic illnesses less frequently than those who are not. It is also believed that, for those with compromised immunity, moderate exercise can enhance the potency of vaccines. For adults, these are the ideal minimum lengths of time to be active:
- Moderate-Intensity exercise (like walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, swimming): 2 hours and 30 minutes every week
- High-Intensity exercise (like running): 1 hour and 15 minutes every week
- Strength Training (like sit-ups, push-ups, and lifting weights): Two times a week
Regulate Long-Lasting Health Conditions: Keeping the symptoms of diseases like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease under control can possibly reduce the potential negative impacts they can have on immune function, which would thereby reduce the body’s risk of infection. To illustrate, if an individual with diabetes does not take appropriate measures to regulate his or her blood sugar levels, this can lead to lingering inflammation that, despite being low-grade, can still lead to a decline in immune function.
For an individual with a chronic health condition, fighting off a virus imposes even more effort on the immune system in order for the body to recover from the infection. To reduce the amount of effort required, it helps to take medications exactly as prescribed, to maintain regular doctor visits, and to practice the abovementioned healthy diet and lifestyle habits to help relieve the body’s burden of working overtime.
Reduce Stress: Persistent stress experienced daily causes the body to produce too much of the stress hormone known as cortisol. When cortisol levels are frequently high, this subdues the body’s immune response. This in turn can lead to an increase in blood pressure, diminished sleep quality, and inflammation; chronic inflammation has been found to have a correlation with several illnesses, including particular cancers, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
The following practices are reputed to not only promote immune health but to also reduce anxiety and stress:
- Getting enough quality sleep
- Maintaining a positive outlook on life
- Spending time in nature
- Walking with bare feet on the grass, sand, or dirt
- Playing a sport
- Deep breathing (especially when feeling fearful or nervous)
- Practicing a slower, more mindful pace of living
- Watching a movie or documentary
- Keeping living and work spaces decluttered and clean
- Talking to a trusted friend or a therapist
- Keeping a healthy distance from toxic relationships with relatives, friends, or colleagues
How To Naturally Support Immunity Through Diet
Hydrate: Drinking enough water is always essential but even more so when experiencing illness or when there is the potential of being exposed to contagion. Water prevents the body from becoming dehydrated, which can lead to headaches, affect digestion, energy levels, temperament, and ability to concentrate, and can compromise the function of the heart and kidney. Staying hydrated also transports oxygen to the body’s cells, which helps all the systems function as they should to reduce vulnerability to illness by stopping toxins from accumulating. One recommended practice is to drink water first thing in the morning and with every meal. Other hydrating beverages include unsweetened tea and coconut water. Elderly individuals might experience thirst less often, but it is important for them to hydrate just as regularly.
Opt For Unprocessed Foods: A daily diet that consists of whole foods, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, seeds, herbs, and spices can help support the proper function of the organs and all body systems, especially because most immune cells can be found in the gut. Fermented foods and legumes are also recommended for their reputed ability to promote gut health.
Reduce Your Sugar Consumption: A diet that is high in added sugars can potentially contribute to weight increases and possibly to obesity. It can lead to inflammation and escalate the risk of getting sick. Conversely, reducing the amount of sugar in a diet can help with weight loss and strengthened immune function.
Consume Alcohol In Moderation: Drinking alcohol in excess keeps the liver, which contributes largely to the process of eliminating bodily toxins, occupied with the task of detoxification, thus detracting from its focus on its regular function that contributes to the body’s immunity. This decelerates the time it takes the body to have its full health restored. The consumption of high levels of alcohol has also been found to lead to increased chances of developing alcohol-related liver disease, particular cancers, pneumonia, and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. A suggested alcohol limit per day is 4-8 ounces.
Choose Healthy Fats: Healthy fats include those found in some oils, fish, and seeds. They are reputed to support immune function by working to inhibit long-lasting inflammation – this not only protects against harmful bacteria and infections but it also decreases the likelihood of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
How To Naturally Support Immunity With Supplements
Vitamin and mineral supplements are reputed to be another quick and easy way to maintain immune function, especially if it is questionable whether diet alone is meeting all nutrient requirements. Some studies suggest that the following supplements have the potential to strengthen immune response and to reduce the occurrence of colds as well as their duration and intensity: Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, Elderberry, Echinacea, Garlic, and Zinc.
These small but significant adjustments can support immune function, provide the benefits of natural nutrient-rich foods, decrease the likelihood of developing diseases, and thereby promote elegant aging. It is important to note, however, that diet, lifestyle, and supplements cannot protect against viruses that require proper social distancing and personal hygiene, namely COVID-19.
Before implementing supplements into your daily routine, consult with a medical practitioner. If permitted to proceed with their use, ensure they have been tested by a third-party organization specializing in analysis and certification.