The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of building up our immune systems to protect our health. Positive lifestyle habits like a healthy diet and regular exercise are some of the best ways to give your immune system a boost.
Here are a few ways to take care of your health and naturally protect your immune system.
Make a healthy eating plan
Healthy eating provides your body with the nutrients it needs to support proper immune function. A balanced diet includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
There are five essential vitamins that are best for boosting your immunity. The first is vitamin C, an antioxidant protecting your body from toxins that cause inflammation. Vitamin-C-rich foods include red and green bell peppers, oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, strawberries, broccoli, and brussel sprouts.
Vitamin B6 supports biochemical reactions in the immune system. It plays a major part in producing white blood cells and T-cells, which fight off viruses and bacteria. Vitamin B6-packed foods include chickpeas, beef, cold-water fish, chicken, fortified breakfast cereals, turkey, and bananas.
Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant that helps fight off infections. Fill your diet with seeds, nuts, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, and mango to help get more of this essential vitamin.
Zinc works as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, which researchers call the “gatekeeper” of the immune system since it is responsible for making immune cells function properly. Seek out foods like oysters, beef, turkey, shrimp, lentils, greek yogurt, and milk to get zinc.
The last recommended vitamin is selenium. It activates your immune system when there’s a threat, and also tells it when to pump the brakes. This keeps your immune system from going into overdrive, which is linked to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Foods high in selenium are tuna, lean meats, cottage cheese, brown rice, eggs, nuts, seeds, and oatmeal.
Maintain a consistent exercise routine
Regular exercise is at the core of healthy living. Physical activity helps sleep quality, boosts your mood, and decreases stress. It also promotes cardiovascular health, controls body weight, lowers blood pressure, and can offer protection against diseases.
A good place to start for adults ages 18 to 64 is to get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, like brisk walking. It is also recommended adults in this age range get at least two days a week of activities that help strengthen muscles.
Older adults, those 65 and up, are recommended to get about the same amount of exercise as the 18 to 64 age range. It is also suggested they take up activities to improve their balance.
Make sleep a priority
Immune function heavily relies on proper sleep habits. Studies show sleep loss can affect different parts of the immune system. This can lead to the development of a variety of disorders.
Sleep loss reduces natural killer (NK) cell activity, which increases the risk of cancers and viral infections. It also turns up the production of inflammatory cytokines, enhancing the chance of cardiovascular and metabolic disorders. Sleep loss is also linked to the reduced production of antibodies, increasing the risk of infections.
Adults 18 to 60 should aim to get seven or more hours of sleep per night. Adults 61 to 64 should get seven to nine hours, and those 65 and older should aim for seven to eight hours.
Quality sleep is essential. Not feeling rested after getting the recommended amount of sleep, repeatedly waking during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders are all signs of poor quality of sleep.
Reduce your stress
Stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells or lymphocytes in the body. Chronic stress could cause the immune system to produce an inflammatory response. When this inflammation is consistent and widespread, it can contribute to chronic diseases, such as the buildup of plaque in the arterial walls.
Chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, which can affect the body’s anti-inflammatory response and lead to continued infections.
There are many different ways that can help manage stress including guided meditation, practicing deep breathing, maintaining physical exercise and good nutrition, managing social media use and connecting with others.
Talk to your doctor about the best ways to protect your health and boost your immune system. To find a provider near you, visit pardeehospital.org.
Dr. Andrew Crocker is a board-certified internal medicine physician with Pardee BlueMD.