Your Immune System defends your body against illness and disease. This complex system comprises the skin cells, blood, bone marrow, tissues, and organs that when working the way they should protect your body against potentially harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses, and limit damage from noninfectious agents like sunburn or cancer.
Think of the immune system as an orchestra. For the best performance, you want every instrument and every musician in the orchestra to perform at their best. You don’t necessarily want one musician to perform at double speed or one instrument to suddenly produce sound at twice the volume it usually does. You want every part to perform exactly according to the score.
The same goes for your immune system. To best protect your body from harm, every component of your immune system needs to perform exactly according to plan. The best way you can ensure this happens is to practice the good-for-you behaviors your immune system runs on every day.
Here are ways to keep your immune system healthy:
Daily Physical Activity, Exercise:
Regular exercise and physical activity lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, as well as viral and bacterial infections. (According to a review published in Frontiers in Immunology). Physical activity increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure), making it a great way to manage stress. Stress negatively impacts our immune system, so exercise can improve your immune system.
Studies that have looked at how exercise affects the body on a cellular level suggest that bouts of physical activity may make your immune system more vigilant by distributing immune cells throughout your body to look for damaged or infected cells.
At a minimum, try to meet the physical activity guidelines. Adults should be getting at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate intensity aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, or cycling or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes), of high-intensity aerobic exercise like running every week.
Strength training at least twice a week is also a boon to your health, fortifying your bones, keeping disease at bay, and improving food processing in the body.
Nutritious Foods and Stay Hydrated:
The nutrients you get from food in particular, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices are essential to keeping your immune system functioning properly. Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight off infection.
For example, spices like clove, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cumin curb the growth of food-spoiling bacteria like Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens, harmful fungi like Aspergillus flavus, and antibiotic-resistant microorganisms like Staphylococcus aureus.
Furthermore, the zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12 you get from the food you eat are the nutrients your immune system needs to do its job, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each one plays a unique role in supporting immune function.
Protein is also critical for immune health. The amino acids in this macronutrient help build and maintain immune cells, and skimping on it may lower your body’s ability to fight infections.
Your body heals and regenerates while you sleep, making adequate sleep critical for a healthy immune response. More specifically, sleep is a time when your body regulates key immune cells and molecules like cytokines (a type of protein that can either fight or promote inflammation), T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates immune response), and interleukin 12 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine). Getting adequate rest may strengthen your body’s natural immunity.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system may not do these things as well, making it less able to defend your body against harmful invaders and making you more likely to get sick.
Adults re suggested to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to optimize health. To ensure you get quality sleep, prioritize good sleep hygiene. Turn off the electronics at least two to three hours before bed, and avoid violent or stressful books or conversations.
Long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of as the steroid hormone cortisol. The body relies on hormones like cortisol during short-term bouts of stress (when your body goes into “fight-or-flight” response); cortisol has a beneficial effect of actually preventing the immune system from responding before the stressful event is over (so your body can react to the immediate stressor). But when cortisol levels are constantly high, it essentially blocks the immune system from kicking into gear and doing its job to protect the body against potential threats from germs like viruses and bacteria.
There are many effective stress-reduction techniques; the key is to find what works for you. Meditation, journaling, and any activity that you enjoy such as fishing, playing golf, or drawing, is a recommended to get rid or reduce stress.
Similarly, opportunities to laugh may lower overall stress, making you less susceptible to illness in the long run.
Make Conscious Hygiene Part of Your Routine:
Personal hygiene may not directly improve immune system health, but basic habits like washing your hands, using hand sanitizer, wearing a mask, and self-isolating when you do get sick can prevent the spread of germs. Wash or sanitize your hands after using the bathroom, before and after shaking hands with others, after coughing or sneezing, and after making contact with high-touch surfaces like countertops and door handles.
Avoid Toxins like Alcohol and Cigarettes:
To optimize your immune system, limit or avoid alcohol, and stop smoking if this is a current habit. High alcohol consumption is associated with a range of negative health effects, including lowered immune function. When you drink to excess, your body is too busy trying to detoxify your system to bother with normal immune system function, Kaplan explains.
Chronic heavy alcohol use can lower levels of B cells and T cells in your body, thereby weakening your ability to fight infection and slowing your recovery time. As a result, people who drink heavily face a greater likelihood of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, alcoholic liver disease, and certain cancers.
Like alcohol, cigarette smoking can affect immune health. Anything that’s a toxin can compromise your immune system. Smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections especially those of the lungs, like pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis.
Keep Symptoms of Chronic Conditions Managed:
Chronic conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes can affect the immune system and increase your risk of infections. If you manage your chronic conditions better, you’ll free up more reserves to help your body fight off infection. So be sure to stay on top of any medications, doctor visits, and healthy habits that keep your symptoms at bay. Your immune system will thank you.
Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccinations:
To support your immune system, get regular vaccinations, which bolster your body’s natural defenses against harmful viruses and bacteria. Without a vaccination, it can take your immune system 10 to 14 days to organize and launch a full-scale attack against those invaders.
Vaccines shorten that two-week waiting period by letting your immune system engage with a piece of that virus or bacteria. Once your immune system has gone through this initial stimulation, it generates memory immune cells that have seen the enemy and are ready to go when they see the enemy again. (everydayhealth.com)