One of the most searched topics in health this year is the immune system, understandably so. This complex “organ,” so to speak, is a highly adapted and organized network that works continuously to keep our bodies safe from invaders and function smoothly. Just like any system in the body, the immune system is best supported when the body is treated in healthy ways. We’ve compiled the top 10 ways to maintain a healthy, balanced immune system among the pandemic – and for years to come.
Balance vs. Boost
The most popular buzzword related to the immune system is “boost,” as in “amplify” or “accelerate.” While this seems beneficial, increasing immune response isn’t quite how it was designed to operate optimally. (Too much of a good thing isn’t better, in this case). Instead, a more appropriate word experts rely on to describe a healthily functioning immune system is “balanced.” When the immune system is balanced, the appropriate response to a threat is activated by the appropriate amount and type of “fighter” blood cells. Maintaining healthy habits is the best way to ensure the body’s intricate internal defense system is working as it was designed.
- Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables.
It’s no surprise that nutrition comes first on the list. The immune system (and all systems of the body, for that matter) depend on regular doses of vitamins and minerals to function at their best. The best source of immune-supporting vitamins (like zinc, iron, copper, selenium, vitamins B6, A, C and E) are found in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and high-quality, lean meats. Taking a multivitamin each day can be beneficial to help round-out the recommended daily allowance of vitamins.
- Exercise (moderately)
Moving the body is essential to balance the immune system. Regular movement helps reduce inflammation and supports cell regeneration. Aim for 150 minutes of exercise per week of brisk walking, swimming, or cycling.
- Do not smoke
Smoking is not only devastating to overall health, but it severely impacts the immune system. Chemicals in cigarettes contribute to a higher susceptibility to diseases like pneumonia and lower levels of antioxidants in the blood, like vitamin C. Smoking can also result in illnesses lasting longer.
- Cut or reduce alcohol intake
Alcohol exposure in the body effects immune cells in organs like the liver, lungs and intestines. Research has also suggested alcohol kills important bacteria in the gut that contribute to immune system health. When alcohol is consumed, the body spends more energy processing and eliminating the toxin which diverts energy from maintaining a balanced immune system.
- Get enough sleep
Sleep is the most necessary component of health. Suppressed sleep is linked to higher rates of infection. While everyone’s requirement for sleep may be different, most adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night to maintain good health.
- Reduce stress
Stress wreaks havoc on the body in many ways, especially when it comes to the immune system. When the body senses stress and releases hormones to enter into “fight or flight,” the immune system is suppressed in order to maintain survival (just think, would the body rather use its energy to run from a lion or help fight a cold?). Prolonged bouts of stress lead to continued immune suppression and a heightened the risk of infection. Practice breathing exercises, meditation or use exercise as a stress-reliever to keep stress levels down.
- Practice clean hygiene
This one is obvious – and dates back to one of the oldest findings in public health, the Germ Theory. Keeping hands and surfaces clean from bacteria and viruses is the first-line of defense against invaders. It’s especially important now to practice hand washing and clean hygiene to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, scientists also argue that too much sanitization may limit the body’s ability to build its natural immune system defenses due to limited exposure.
- Eat healthy fats
Incorporating healthy fats into the diet, like wild-caught salmon, nuts, seeds and avocados, can help reduce inflammation which helps the body more efficiently fight off bacteria and viruses. Chronic inflammation reduces the body’s ability to maintain a balanced immune system, so eating whole foods rich in healthy omega-3 fats is a helpful way to keep inflammation appropriate to an immune response.
- Stay hydrated
Our bodies are mostly made of water – it is necessary for health and vitality. Water helps maintain a healthy weight and can assist in flushing toxins or bacteria that could lead to infections. Drinking plenty of water each day and eating fresh foods that have percentages of water (like fruits and vegetables) is essential to immune system function and overall body composition.
- Speaking of…Maintain a healthy body composition
Overweight and obesity can have a huge impact on the immune system, making it harder to fight off infections. In most recent news, research has pointed to worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients who are obese or overweight due to heightened inflammation. Even shedding 10 pounds can help balance out the immune system. A healthy body composition is built on a healthy, balanced diet, resistance training and overall active lifestyle.
The immune system is a complex and highly evolved system in the body that is designed to protect and defend against outside invaders. Living a healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition, sleep, hydration, and reduced stress is the best way to maintain an optimally balanced immune system. This means creating lasting healthy habits that will continue to support health and vitality throughout your lifetime.
Curious how our Nutrition Coaching can help guide you towards healthy habit formation? Chat with us today to learn more!