If you want to boost your immune health, you may wonder how to help your body fight off illnesses.
While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.
Here are 10 tips to strengthen your immune system naturally.
1. Exercise regularly
Physical activity isn’t just for building muscles and helping yourself de-stress — it’s also an important part of being healthy and supporting a healthy immune system.
One way exercise may improve immune function is by boosting your overall circulation, making it easier for immune cells and other infection-fighting molecules to travel more easily throughout your body.
In fact, studies have shown that engaging in as little as 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day helps stimulate your immune system. This means it’s important to focus on staying active and getting regular exercise.
2. Cut Back on the Booze
Alcohol plays a major role in how we socialize and celebrate. But too much can weaken your defenses and cause you to get sick more often. How much is too much? More than two drinks a day for men and more than one for women.
3. Stay hydrated
Hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health. Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness . To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Water is recommended because it’s free of calories, additives, and sugar. While tea and juice are also hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar contents . As a general guideline, you should drink when you’re thirsty and stop when you’re no longer thirsty. You may need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or live in a hot climate .
It’s important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately. Older adults need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
4. Consume a healthy diet with enough zinc and vitamin C
Newsflash: a healthy diet keeps you healthy. While everyone knows this, it’s worth ensuring you consume enough vitamin C zinc and vitamin D . These micronutrients have been found in multiple studies to protect against the common cold virus, influenza and other respiratory conditions. They directly support the functioning of your immune system.
The benefits aren’t magical, not all studies find benefits and there’s no clear dose-response, so I don’t necessarily recommend going out of your way to purchase supplements. Preventing deficiencies is probably most important, though some evidence suggests high doses of zinc and vitamin C may shorten the duration of illness, so it’s possible higher intakes are beneficial when you’re ill.
Zinc might be worth supplementing though, specifically in lozenge form. Zinc seems to be particularly effective to reduce the duration of common cold virus infections when it comes into direct contact with your throat and nose to fight the virus. It may also trigger nausea and local irritation this way though.
In general, you should be in good shape if you consume a healthy diet.
Good sources of zinc include red meat (beef, pork or lamb, organ meat included), chicken liver or kidney, or shellfish (oysters, crab or lobster). Vegetarians should consider supplementing zinc if they’re not tracking their intake, as it’s hard to consume enough zinc for an exercising individual without meat or shellfish.
Good sources of vitamin C include fruits (citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries or large amounts of tomato) and vegetables (peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts or large amounts of potato).
If you don’t get regular sun exposure, you’ll likely benefit from supplementing at least 2000 IUs per day of vitamin D, as there’s very little vitamin D in food. Your skin produces it in response to ultraviolet radiation.
5. Reduce your stress levels
Specifically, research has found that stress causes a release of the hormone cortisol, which can boost inflammation, a precursor to many diseases, in your body. Chronic stress may also interfere with the infection-fighting ability of your white blood cells, making you more susceptible to contracting illnesses.
6. Make changes to your lifestyle. And stick to them
In addition to using nutrition to boost your immune system, you can also make changes to your lifestyle to help support health and immunity. These include:
- Decrease your exposure to bacteria, viruses and germs.
- Aim for 7 hours or more of sleep every night. If your sleep is interrupted, try a 30-minute nap during the day.
- Reduce stress by taking time to do things you enjoy such as spending time with family, spending time outdoors or reading. If your feelings of anxiety or depression make it difficult for you to complete daily tasks, talk to your healthcare team.
7. Be strategic about supplements
There’s no magic herb or vitamin you can pop to automatically prevent a cold, flu or other virus. But a 2017 review of 25 studies, published in the British Medical Journal, found that a moderate daily dose of vitamin D may offer protection if you’re already low in the sunshine vitamin, points out Tod Cooperman, M.D., president and editor in chief of ConsumerLab.com.
The best way to find out if you’re lacking in vitamin D is to get your blood levels tested; you should be between 20-39 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter). If you’re within that range, a daily supplement of about 600 to 800 IU is fine. If you’re low, talk with your doctor about additional supplementation — up to 2,000 IU a day. Cooperman advises taking it with meals that contain fats or oils, to increase absorption.
The Cleveland Clinic’s Lin also recommends cooking with herbs such as garlic, ginger, rosemary, oregano and turmeric. All have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, she explains, and some, like garlic, have even been shown to be protective against colds. “When my patients ask me about taking supplements to enhance their immune system, I always go back to food, food, food,” she says. “Food is medicine.”
8. Promote gut health
Your gut knows when you’re happy… in fact, your gut know nearly everything. Keep it in check!
Foods with good bacteria, like yogurt, have positive health benefits. Probiotics can help your digestive system function normal and stay balanced. After all, 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive system, so it’s best to keep your stomach healthy and happy.
9. Personal hygiene
Taking care of all the above things while maintaining good personal hygiene will keep your immune system strong and healthy. Practising good personal hygiene will stop germs from entering your body and keep your health good.
10. Other ways to boost your immune system
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first way to boost your immune system. Making changes according to good-health guidelines, suggested by experts, will also help you to keep your immune system strong. Making small changes and developing the following habits will improve your immunity:
- Don’t smoke.
- Have one seasonal fruit in a day.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol.
- To avoid infection, wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid eating half-cooked food.
- Take all recommended vaccines. Vaccines improve the immune system.
Bottom line: Adopting certain lifestyle habits can strengthen your immune system.
Of course, you can do everything right and still get sick. But doing your best to boost your immune system now means your body will be that much more prepared for tackling whatever bugs may come your way later.