Your immune system keeps you healthy, but you have to return the favor to keep it working efficiently. You’ve probably seen plenty of products out there claiming to “boost” your immune system or provide “immune support.”
However, it’s not quite that simple. It’s actually an intricate system that depends on a lot of moving parts. Therefore, it’s better to focus on supporting your immune system through healthy habits.
Here are five key habits to keep your immune system healthy and functioning optimally.
1. Focus on Nutrition
A healthy diet will nourish your immune system so you’re protected from illness. If you do get sick, a strong immune system will fight it off quickly. If you want to stay healthy and avoid getting sick, head to the grocery store; not the pharmacy.
Here are some of the best foods for your immune system:
Citrus fruits - citrus is rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that can help your body fight illness. Your body can’t make or store vitamin C, so it’s necessary to get it from food. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 90mg per day for men, and 75mg for women.
Berries - Berries are full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Veggies - Bright-colored bell peppers have antioxidants and vitamin C. Broccoli is packed with vitamin C and vitamin E.
Leafy greens - Leafy greens have all of the good stuff, like vitamin E, vitamin C and other antioxidants.
Nuts and seeds - Almonds and sunflower seeds provide vitamin E and selenium.
Yogurt - A strong immune system begins with a healthy gut! Yogurt with strains of live bacteria, also known as probiotics, support healthy bacteria in the gut. Yogurt is also a good source of vitamin D, another immune-supporting vitamin.
Green tea - Green tea is known for EGCG, a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown that EGCG can help fight off illness.
Anti-inflammatory foods - Foods like cherries, ginger and turmeric decrease inflammation in the body, which helps the immune response.
On the other hand, there are also some foods to avoid if you want to promote a healthy immune system. A diet high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar can hinder your immune cells’ ability to work.
Fat and sodium damage the cardiovascular system, while sugar promotes harmful chronic inflammation. All three can damage gut health, which directly affects your immune system.
Overall, the best thing you can do is focus on variety in your diet. Eating a bag of oranges or chugging a gallon of sweet tea won’t cut it. A consistently healthy diet over time will.
2. Exercise Regularly
Exercise keeps all of the body’s systems healthy. In fact, even light exercise each day can make a big difference for your immune system. It gets the blood pumping and improves circulation, which helps your immune cells detect and fight illness more quickly.
It’s also possible that exercise helps your lungs stay clear of harmful bacteria. Finally, exercise keeps your stress levels down, which can also influence how often you get sick.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is important for every system in your body. In fact, studies have found a direct connection between short-term and long-term sleep deprivation and weakened immunity.
Although more research is needed to pinpoint exactly why, scientists believe that the immune system works harder while we sleep. During this time, other systems are slow and working less. This frees up energy for immune cells to fight off illness and strengthen immunity.
4. Avoid Harmful Habits
One of the best habits, is to avoid harmful habits like smoking and drinking. Smoking damages your lungs and cardiovascular system, which hinders your immune response. Damaged lungs can’t rid the body of harmful bacteria. A poorly working cardiovascular system can’t circulate immune cells to fight disease.
Alcohol is okay in moderation. However, frequent use of alcohol has been shown to directly suppress the immune system.
Spending too much time indoors could also affect your immune health. You’re more likely to be sedentary when you spend time indoors.
Getting outside for a little sunshine also allows your body to activate more vitamin D, so chances are good you’re also vitamin D deficient if you spend a lot of time indoors. This is important because low vitamin D has been linked to increased infections like the cold and flu.
5. Minimize Stress
The link between body and mind is real. In other words, you have to keep your mental health in check in order to support your physical health. According to current research, long-term, chronic stress wreaks more havoc on your immune system than acute stress caused by one event.
“Chronic stress” also refers to long-term depression or anxiety. Both significantly weaken immune cell response when a virus or bacteria enters the body. Experiencing chronic stress can also lower the efficacy of antibodies produced by a previous illness or even a vaccine.
Your immune system depends on your health as a whole to work properly and keep you fully protected. Although focusing on any of the above habits will support your immune system to an extent. However, it’s best to work on all of the healthy habits mentioned in this article if you want to build a strong, healthy immune system: nutrition, exercise, stress, sleep and minimizing unhealthy habits.