Public health has been a major focus in light of current events. With that, let’s talk about what you can do to strengthen your immune system. Those factors include your genetic make-up, the germs that you have been exposed to over your lifetime, and your lifestyle.
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The Four Key Lifestyle Factors in Immune Function
Lifestyle factors that impact your immune function include:
- Stress Levels
- Quality/Quantity of Sleep
- Dietary Factors
Here are some things that you can do to strengthen your immune system:
Maintain a Regular Exercise Routine
Depending on your level of exercise, it can be good or bad for your immune function.
Maintaining a regular exercise routine, which consists of at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, has been shown to improve your immune response and lead to significantly fewer respiratory infections.
Excessive exercise, such as participating in high-intensity workouts for more than 90 minutes at a time on a regular basis, has been shown to be associated with significantly more respiratory infections than occur in people who perform moderate exercise.
Lower Your Stress
Your immune system works better at fighting illness when your body is not under stress. Several studies back this up. In one series of studies from Carnegie Mellon University, people were given nose drops containing a cold virus.
The people who reported less stress in their lives were significantly less likely to develop cold symptoms even though they were exposed to the same amount of cold virus.
Worrying about COVID-19, or the stock market doesn’t help your stress level!
Learning techniques to help manage your stress can help your immune system to function better. This would include things like meditation, controlled breathing exercises, or talking with a therapist.
Sleep Well Consistently
Improving your sleep habits is a good way to strengthen your immune system. You should try to sleep 7-8 hours per night.
Try to get into a regular routine, with your bedtime and wake time not varying more than about 30-45 minutes each day.
Avoid excessive lighting in the evening, especially screen time late in the evening. You need the dim light to trigger your natural melatonin release to help you get a better night’s sleep.
Make Informed Dietary Choices
Several dietary factors can affect your immune function. More importantly, your diet has a tremendous influence on the other three factors. The quality of your diet can significantly improve or deteriorate their progress!
There is promising research to suggest that maintaining a normal vitamin D level could help your body fight off respiratory infections. You might talk with your doctor about checking your vitamin D level, and taking vitamin D supplements if it is low.
There are no clinical recommendations for taking vitamin D supplements for immune function if you have a normal vitamin D level.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
There have been many studies that show a link between excessive alcohol consumption and immune function.
Research indicates that people who drink alcohol in excess are more susceptible to respiratory infections and that they recover from infections and wounds more slowly.
There are several ways that excessive alcohol can decrease immune function. This is true for binge drinking as well as chronic, daily excessive alcohol use.
Balance your diet with a variety of fresh food
A healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, with low levels of simple sugars, can improve the health of the microbiome of your gut. You may be surprised to know that your gut microbiome has a huge effect on your immune function.
Don’t waste your money on unproven supplements
Despite many claims to the contrary, there is no single food or natural remedy that has been proven to improve immune function. You can read various claims about the immune-boosting properties of a number of foods, spices, and supplements, including ginger, turmeric, oregano oil, bone broth, zinc, and more.
According to Dr. Krystina Woods, hospital epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai West, “There are people who anecdotally say ‘I felt great after I took whatever.’ That may be true, but there’s no science to support that.”
There is no harm in eating foods that are touted as immune boosters as part of your balanced diet, especially if you enjoy them, but don’t rely on supplements that are unproven instead of a balanced, healthy diet.
Strengthen Your Immune System: Important Takeaways to Remember
Strengthen your immune system by making considered and thoughtful choices regarding the four factors above. Maintain healthy habits in these areas will likely reward you with modest to significant improvement in your overall health.
It’s important to note, however, that strengthening your immune system doesn’t prevent contracting disease altogether. They are not substitutions for the current guidelines on public health in the current pandemic. Necessary precautions should be still be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.