When it comes to staying healthy, maintaining a strong immune system should be a top priority. The immune system defends the body from pathogens, the term used to encompass germs, viruses, and other disease-causing microorganisms.
Comprised of skin, blood, bone marrow, tissues, and organs, the immune system is a complex network that works together to protect the body from foreign threats.
Though powerful, even the healthiest immune systems aren’t invincible—everyone gets sick from time to time. Pathogens can adapt and evolve, allowing them to overcome the body’s natural defenses.
Especially during cold and flu season, you want to give yourself the best fighting chance against germs and viruses. No matter how careful you are, it’s likely you’ll still come in contact with pathogens, and a compromised immune system won’t be able to defeat the invasion.
How can you take action and improve your immune health? There isn’t a magic pill or vitamin you can take to bulk up your defenses. However, you can practice tried-and-true healthy habits to improve your chances of successfully fending off external pathogens.
Eliminate Harmful Indulgences
Bad habits such as smoking cigarettes and drinking high amounts of alcohol are linked with a range of adverse health effects, including lowered immune function.
When you consume high amounts of alcohol, your body goes to work detoxifying your system, interrupting normal immune system functions.
Similarly, the harmful chemicals released by cigarette smoke, such as nicotine, carbon monoxide, cadmium, and nitrogen oxides, hinder the growth and function of immune cells.
Protect Yourself from Germs
While skin itself is a natural barrier against germs, you should look at it as a secondary mechanism for avoided illness. Protecting yourself from germs through lifestyle habits should be your first line of defense.
The immune system doesn’t have to fight back if pathogens never invade to begin with. Healthy lifestyle practices include:
- Washing your hands often, especially before eating
- Avoiding touching your face
- Keeping a safe distance away from the people you know are sick
- Not sharing food and beverages
Drink Plenty of Water
Though hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from disease-causing viruses, preventing dehydration is vital to your overall health and normal body functions.
Furthermore, drinking a lot of liquid helps the body flush out toxins and bacteria.
Set a Regular Sleep Schedule
Sleep and immunity are closely related. For example, a National Institutes of Health study showed that healthy adults who slept fewer than six hours every night were more susceptible to catching a cold than those who slept six hours or more each night.
Getting sufficient sleep naturally strengthens immunity because sleep allows the immune system to better fight the illness more efficiently.
Adults should aim to sleep for seven hours or more each night, while teens require eight to 10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours of sleep.
Engaging in moderate exercise every day boosts the immune system by promoting the circulation of white blood cells throughout the body. Regularly working out may also reduce inflammation and aid in the regeneration of immune cells.
Brisk walking, swimming, steady bicycling, and jogging are great options for moderate exercise that you can incorporate into your daily schedule.
Stress and anxiety can take a significant toll on immune health. Long-term stress leads to inflammation and imbalances in immune cell function. Furthermore, prolonged psychological stress in children can suppress immune responses.
To avoid the damaging effects of continuous stress, engage in stress management activities such as meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, and other mindfulness practices.
Supplement Essential Vitamins and Nutrients
While you should try to consume all the essential vitamins and nutrients through your diet, this is often a difficult task the requires willpower and significant lifestyle changes. Forming that type of habit takes time, and you may want to explore other immune health solutions, such as taking supplements, in the meantime.
Probiotics and Antioxidants
On top of the essential vitamins and minerals, you’ll want to ensure that your diet includes probiotics and antioxidants.
Probiotics, naturally found in yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, and other fermented foods support the “good” bacteria in the gut that help fight infections.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight off radical agents. If radical agents build up in the body, it can lead to sickness and serious medical conditions. Antioxidant-rich foods include blueberries, dark chocolate, kale, spinach, and beans.
Taking Control of Your Health
While many health factors, such as your genetics, are outside of your control, improving immune health is entirely within your power. To ward off sickness and stay in tip-top shape year-round, start incorporating immune health habits into your daily life.