Want to build your immunity? Here are 6 healthy habits…
It’s that time of year where a healthy immune system is more important than ever. Flu season is upon us and we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. As you gather around more family and friends with the upcoming Holidays, it’s important to do everything you can to keep your body’s natural germ-fighting system in tip top shape.
But first – how does your immune system work? When germs invade our bodies, they attack and multiply. This invasion is called an infection and it’s what causes us to be ill. White blood cells (also known as “immunity cells”) are carried by our blood and have specific functions designed to fight disease. Macrophages swallow up and digest germs. They leave parts of the invading germ behind, called antigens, which your body uses later to identify the germ if it tries to invade again – and stimulates antibodies to attack it. B-lymphocytes are the white blood cells that produce those antibodies. And T-lymphocytes are the ones who attack cells in your body that have already been infected.
This system is designed to work naturally and on autopilot – but there are things you can do to help it run more smoothly. Here are 6 healthy habits you can incorporate into your lifestyle that will help you build a strong immune system.
1. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health in general, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to fight disease. Water helps flush everything out, and your cells work better when fully hydrated – including those that work for your immune system. Water isn’t the only thing that helps you stay hydrated. Broth, tea, or anything without a lot of sugar counts. Remembering to stay hydrated is especially important if you’re over 65, since the aging population tends to consume less liquid during the day.
2. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control your body weight, and it boosts your immune system. Exercise keeps your blood flowing, allowing pathogens to be filtered out more efficiently. Plus, did you know sweat can kill pathogens on the surface of your skin? Regular exercise and activity also makes it less likely that you’ll get injured. A debilitating injury is a sure sentence for inactivity which will ultimately have an impact on your overall health and immune system.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation has been proven to increase the risk of illness. Sleep researchers at the University of California – San Francisco, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center tested this theory by exposing 164 volunteers to the cold virus through nasal drops while monitoring their sleep and evaluating their health habits. The participants who slept less than five hours were four-and-a-half times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for seven hours a night. So make sure you turn off those devices at least an hour before you head to bed and aim for seven hours of z’s per night.
4. Eat Well
Eating a healthy, plant-based and varied diet is one of the best ways to boost your immune system. Avoid processed foods and opt for lots of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors. Purple cabbage, for example, has one of the highest amounts of antioxidants. There is some evidence that when you’re deficient in micronutrients such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C and E – that your immune system’s response will be altered. The best way to get all of these is through food – so choose a healthy diet to keep your immune system functioning at its best.
5. Cuddle with your Pets
OK – I read this and thought – I must include this in my article. A study at Washington State University found that simply cuddling with your dog or cat for 10 minutes had a significant impact on reducing cortisol levels. In other words, cuddling with your pet helps to minimize stress. Scientists have long suspected a link between increased emotional stress and decreased immune function. But quantifying this is challenging because stress is so subjective. Try to include daily habits of gratitude, meditation, and deep breathing. Any of these habits will help to reduce your stress and make it easier for your immune system to do its job.
6. Get Outside
Getting a regular dose of fresh air not only reduces my stress, but it gives me vitamin D. The effectiveness of vitamin D on fighting colds and flus is still unclear and being studied, but vitamin D is believed to help facilitate normal immune system function. But regardless of the research, getting outside definitely gets you away from all that circulated air, which has to be beneficial. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we get more colds in the winter, so when you can, bundle up and get outside. Your immune system won’t object.
If you can add even one of these healthy habits into your life you’ll be doing your immune system a favor.
Good health is arguably our most important asset in life. Don’t take it for granted and do whatever you can to preserve and optimize it.
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Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH – where we help people aged 40+ be more active, healthy, and mobile – WITHOUT things like pills, procedures or surgery. Visit our free resources section for more healthy tips and advice for back, knee, neck, and shoulder pain.