8 Ways To Boost Your Immune System
With the cold and flu season upon us, many of you are going to be wondering what you can do to help ensure you don’t fall ill with the common cold and flu. While common sense options definitely apply – get more sleep, wash your hands, and avoid large crowds, there are many other things…
With the cold and flu season upon us, many of you are going to be wondering what you can do to help ensure you don’t fall ill with the common cold and flu. While common sense options definitely apply – get more sleep, wash your hands, and avoid large crowds, there are many other things that you can be doing to avoid falling ill.
Curious what some of these are? Let’s go over your top 8 best defenses against falling ill this coming season.
1. Keep Stress Levels Low
While you know that sleep is important for strengthening your immune system, what you may not realize is the impact that stress can have. If you have chronically high levels of stress on a daily basis, that is going to seriously hamper immune function, practically inviting harmful bacteria and viruses into the body.
Many people are walking around on a daily basis extremely stressed out and this is not doing them any favors.
In some cases, you may not even realize that you’re feeling stressed – until you’re struck down with a cold. Some common signs of stress include difficulty sleeping, feeling irritable, not having as much motivation to do the activities in life you used to enjoy, and feeling drained by the day’s end.
If you notice these occurring, you may be stressed without realizing it. Stress doesn’t always come in the form of feeling your heart race or your stomach tighten due to anxiety. There can be other physical symptoms you’ll want to recognize as well so if any symptoms start to occur, you can do something about your stress level.
2. Load Up On Vitamin C
Next, you’ll also want to be sure to load up on Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant in the body that helps to combat free radical damage and the harmful effects of stress, getting you back to feeling your best.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin as well, meaning you need to consume it daily in order to get enough. If you aren’t taking it in daily, you may fall deficient. If you super dose one day, your body will just flush it out so you’ll still need it again the next day.
Not to mention, super dosing with vitamin C is never a good idea. Too much can cause diarrhea, which will then throw off your electrolyte levels.
Most people tend to immediately think of oranges for their Vitamin C content but there are many foods that are terrific sources.
Some of the other great places to get vitamin C include berries, grapefruits, bell peppers, and broccoli. Make sure at least one of these foods is in your diet on a regular basis.
3. Get A Daily Dose Of Sunlight
Did you know that natural sunlight can boost your immune system? It’s true. First, getting some fresh air is great for keeping stress at bay. We’ve already discussed how lowering your stress level is important for strengthening your immune system so you can understand that benefit.
In addition to that, getting a natural dose of sunlight will also help to provide some extra Vitamin D to the body, which is also important for keeping your immune system up, as seen in research published in the proceedings of the Nutrition Society. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in very few foods so chances are, unless you are currently supplementing or spending a great deal of time outside, you’re falling short.
A brisk walk for 15 minutes is all you need to get your levels up to healthy levels. Note that you don’t want to spend much more than that outside without sunscreen lotion on or you could be increasing your risk for skin cancer.
4. Get Some Exercise In – But Don’t Go Overboard
Exercise is another important thing that you’ll want to get started on if you hope to boost your immune system in the winter months ahead. The thing to know with exercise is that there’s a fine line between doing enough and doing too much.
If you’re hitting the gym every day and going to your absolute limit, this will start to wear you down and can actually weaken your immune system, as was demonstrated in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. Those who are on the verge of overtraining often notice they fall ill with the common cold and flu more often and this is why. Their body is using all of its reserves trying to recover from the exercise taking place that it has nothing left to fight off a cold and flu bug.
So how do you know if you’re doing enough but not too much? Some good signs include:
- You feel motivated to hit the gym for each workout session
- You are seeing your performance constantly go up – rather than decline over time
- You’re sleeping just fine at night (those who are near overtraining often notice they can’t fall asleep or stay asleep)
- You’re feel quite energized throughout the day. After a workout you feel tired but you don’t feel like the only thing you’re up for is taking a nap.
As long as you can safely say these things, you know you’re on track to doing the right amount of exercise.
For most people, this will be around 3-5 sessions per week at about 45-75 minutes in length. Any more exercise than this and you may pay the price through a compromised immune system.
Also, keep in mind that the more intense the exercise is that you are doing, the more rest you will need throughout the week in order to recover. Often what throws people for a loop is when they increase the intensity of their workout session but forget to cut back on the duration of their sessions.
Always keep in mind that duration and intensity are inversely related. The longer the workout, the lower the intensity will need to be.
5. Consume Alcohol In Moderation
As much as you may love to indulge in a drink after a hard day of work, really try and resist if keeping your immune system intact is your top priority. Alcohol is a toxin in the body and as soon as it’s into your system, all other processes are going to come to a stop. This includes your immune fighting powers. Furthermore, if you drink enough and go on to suffer from liver related issues, this also has a very negative impact on immune health, as was noted in research published in the JAMA journal.
Until the alcohol has been oxidized off, you will be in a compromised position. Try and limit the number of alcoholic drinks you consume to just one or two per week at most. While you may feel like this puts a damper on your winter season, you’ll come out much healthier because of it.
Next time you’re tempted to indulge in an alcoholic drink, just think of how it would feel to be down and out with the flu. That may make you think twice about indulging.
As an added bonus – no hangovers! That’s definitely a plus to sticking with club soda and lemon rather than that glass of wine or beer you were planning.
6. Eat Those Leafy Greens
You’ve heard it a hundred times in your life and you’re about to hear it again; if you really want to strengthen your immune system, it’s important to be eating your leafy greens.
Leafy greens are nutritional powerhouses that simple can’t be beat as far as top foods to be putting into your body. Not only are they going to strengthen your immune system, but they also go a long way towards helping you protect against disease as well.
Furthermore, leafy greens are virtually calorie free, so you can literally eat as many of them as you want in your diet without worry. This makes them ideal for those who are trying to watch their body weight.
Spinach, bok choy, collard greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and kale are all terrific options. You should be aiming to eat at least 2, if not 3 or 4 cups of leafy greens each week for optimal results.
7. Practice Meditation
Another smart step to take to optimize your immune health and protect against the common cold and flu is daily meditation. Meditation is one of the most well-researched activities in terms of overall health enhancement.
Many people think that meditation is only going to provide benefits for the mind but that isn’t the case. There are many great benefits at the physical level as well.
These include improved body weight control, enhanced insulin sensitivity and therefore a lower risk of diabetes, better controlled diabetes, decreased blood pressure levels, and an improved immune system.
You don’t need to meditate for hours to see noticeable results either. Just ten minutes a day can get you seeing noticeable improvements in your overall well-being and how you feel and function on a daily basis.
Those who meditate tend to fall ill less frequently compared to those who don’t, so it’s definitely a practice you might want to consider taking up.
If you aren’t quite sure how to meditate, it can be as simple as finding a quiet and low-lit place to sit and then simply focusing on your breathing. Focus on it coming in and out of your body. Feeling your lungs rise and expand with each breath you take and while you do, focusing on letting thoughts that come to your mind go. Meditation is all about being in the moment and generally speaking, the better you are able to do that, the more you’ll enjoy your day to day life as well.
8. Take A Probiotic
Finally, the last important step you’ll want to take to improve your immune system and help reduce the frequency and severity of any colds and flu’s you experience this season is to take a probiotic.
Probiotics are the healthy ‘good’ bacteria that live inside the gut and takes on many roles inside the body. It helps to make sure your immune system stays strong, your able to properly break down and digest the foods you are eating and ensure that all systems in your body are functioning optimally.
Most people don’t give probiotics the credit they deserve. These tiny micro-organisms really impact every single element of your well-being and sadly, most people don’t currently have enough.
Gut health ties into brain health, fitness health, energy levels, as well as your immune system. Up to 80% of your immune system resides in your gut so when it’s not functioning optimally, you can be certain you are going to experience side effects because of it.
So there you have the main steps to take to help improve your immune system, feel better on a day to day basis, and fight the cold and flu this season. If you follow all of these tips and also make sure that you are getting your 7-8 hours of sleep each night as well, you’ll stand a very good chance of being one of those people who manages to get through the entire winter without catching a single cold. Think of how great that will feel!
Glaser, Ronald, et al. “Stress-related immune suppression: Health implications.” Brain, behavior, and immunity 1.1 (1987): 7-20.
Hewison, Martin. “Vitamin D and immune function: an overview.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 71.1 (2012): 50-61.
Mackinnon, Laurel Traeger, and Sue Hooper. “Mucosal (secretory) immune system responses to exercise of varying intensity and during overtraining.” International Journal of Sports Medicine 15.S 3 (1994): S179-S183.
MacGregor, Rob Roy. “Alcohol and immune defense.” Jama256.11 (1986): 1474-1479.
Rosenzweig, Steven, et al. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction is associated with improved glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study.” Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 13.5 (2007): 36.
Anderson, James W., Chunxu Liu, and Richard J. Kryscio. “Blood pressure response to transcendental meditation: a meta-analysis.” American journal of hypertension 21.3 (2008): 310-316.
Obasi, Chidi N., et al. “Advantage of meditation over exercise in reducing cold and flu illness is related to improved function and quality of life.” Influenza and other respiratory viruses 7.6 (2013): 938-944.
Yan, Fang, and D. B. Polk. “Probiotics and immune health.” Current opinion in gastroenterology 27.6 (2011): 496.