Our immune systems act to defend our body and fight off the pathogens which cause illness. But getting them to run at their best isn’t as straightforward as swapping a chocolate bar for an orange. However, there are a few simple lifestyle changes you can easily adapt to better support it in being as strong and as effective as possible.
Stress can suppress the immune system and make you more vulnerable to infection. Chronic stress (that lasts from weeks to years) may also interfere with the infection-fighting ability of your white blood cells, making you more susceptible to contracting the illness. You can help minimize stress through regular breathing techniques and meditation, reading books or simply sitting down and having a tea break.
In order to stay healthy, it’s important to make sure you’re active on a regular basis. This because exercise can help support good circulation, allowing our white blood cells to travel through the body more effectively. Make sure to keep it moderate though, as excessive, overly intense exercise can sometimes do our cells more harm than good.
When we are feeling tired and run down, our body is less able to fight off infection. The body repairs itself when we’re asleep, which is why is it so important to make sure you get plenty of sleep. Aim for a full eight hours of sleep to be at your best. But if your sleep schedule won’t allow for this, try and aim to get in two 30-minute naps during the day, or at the very least, one 20-minute nap in the afternoon.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
The next time you’re tempted to pour yourself another tipple, consider this: alcohol affects your gut health by damaging the microbiome and disrupting communication between your gut and the wider immune system. Not to mention alcohol causes dehydration, which is thought to weaken your immune system. Stick to soft drinks where possible and aim to drink at least two liters of water per day.
Fruit and veg every day can work wonders for your immune system as they contain antioxidants that the body needs to fight oxidative stress. Those of the orange and yellow variety – including sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and beetroot – are rich in beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to Vitamin A. This helps to keep the mucosal linings in our nose and lungs robust enough to defend against infection. Vitamin D is also essential for a healthy functioning immune system as it is believed to stimulate the production of peptide – substances in the body that are able to fight off bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Look to include eggs and fatty fish in your diet – but you may also wish to take additional supplements during the winter.
Drink More Milk
According to the NHS, drinking more milk and eating dairy products – such as cheese, yogurt, and fromage frais – can help to support your immune system. This is because they are all are great sources of protein, Vitamins A and B12 and calcium. They recommend opting for semi-skimmed, 1 percent milk or skimmed milk (as opposed to full-fat milk) and low-fat plain yogurts.
Be Good to Your Gut
The gut and your immune system have evolved to support each other to fight off unwanted pathogens. 70 to 80 percent of all your body’s immune cells are found in the gut – so it’s essential to keep it as strong and healthy as possible. To give it a helping hand, try eating pulses, fiber and lots of fermented foods, like kefir, sauerkraut (raw fermented cabbage) and pickles.