Our immune system protects us from unwanted visitors to our bodies, including harmful bacteria and viruses. Generally speaking, the more efficient and effective your immune system is, the healthier you will be.
While our immune system works all the time in the background without us activating it, there are many things we can do to protect and enhance it.
Here are ten ways you can do just that.
1. Maintain a healthy and balanced diet
A healthy and nutritious diet is vital for optimising your immune system. Your diet should contain significant variety and focus on whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, lean meat and fish, whole grains, and legumes. Each of these food groups is high in essential nutrients, minerals, and antioxidants, which work together to strengthen your immune response.
Regardless of where you live, you should also try to include as much locally grown produce in your diet as possible. By doing this, you will naturally eat more seasonal fruits and vegetables, which are often more nutrient-dense and will give your whole body an additional health boost.
2. Stay hydrated
Multiple studies have found that 75% of adults in the United States suffer from chronic dehydration. And if that's the figure in a high-income nation where most, if not all, of the population can access clean and safe drinking water, imagine what it potentially is in lower-income countries where the situation is the exact opposite.
The importance of drinking water is well-established, but you might not realise the direct impact your hydration levels can have on your immune system. Water is vital for various immune system functions, including:
- Carrying oxygen to your cells
- Flushing out toxins
- Aiding lymph production – lymph transports vital infection-fighting white blood cells and other nutrients around our bodies
Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water daily, and more if you live somewhere hot or participate in strenuous exercise.
3. Get adequate sleep
Our bodies conduct several vital processes when we're asleep, including producing and releasing proteins called cytokines, which help regulate our immune systems.
If you don’t get enough sleep, or the quality of your sleep is poor, production of these proteins can decrease, weakening your immune system and leaving you more susceptible to illness.
4. Take regular exercise
The benefits of regular exercise on our physical and mental health are well documented. And the physical benefits extend to our immune systems, too. Exercise promotes efficient blood circulation, allowing our immune cells to move more quickly, freely, and easily around our bodies, meaning they can do their job more effectively.
What does regular exercise mean? A brisk 30-minute walk five times a week – giving you the 150 minutes of physical activity most health bodies advocate – will do the trick!
5. Look after your mental health
Chronic stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system by releasing cortisol, which suppresses immune function when present in our bodies for prolonged periods.
You can reduce your stress levels by practising disciplines like mindfulness and meditation. If your stress is work-related, look for ways to improve your work-life balance.
If you’re a Now Health International member, use your Employee or Member Assistance Programme for further tips and assistance managing your mental health.
6. Limit your alcohol intake, and don't smoke
Alcohol and tobacco significantly harm our immune systems and can make us more susceptible to infections. Alcohol disrupts the gut microbiome, which plays a significant role in immune function, while smoking impairs the immune response in the lungs.
Optimise your immune system by limiting alcohol intake and avoiding smoking and other tobacco products.
7. Maintain good hygiene practices
Maintaining simple, everyday hygiene practices like washing your hands regularly, avoiding contact with sick individuals, and keeping your environment clean can go a long way to reducing your risk of infections.
8. Get vaccinated
In addition to their significant impact on public health, vaccines are like taking your immune system to the gym as they train it to recognise and fight off harmful viruses and bacteria.
If vaccines are accessible and available in your location, it’s always worth ensuring yours are up to date, whether that’s a seasonal vaccine like the influenza jab or vaccinations you need to protect you because you’re living away from home.
9. Ensure you get enough exposure to sunlight – or consume more vitamin D
Contrary to popular belief, we don't get vitamin D from the sun. Instead, ultraviolet light activates the vitamin D in our bodies.
Regardless of the science behind it, the most important thing you need to know is that vitamin D is essential for a healthy and robust immune system. The best way to ensure your body produces enough vitamin D is to spend time outside every day when the sun is not too intense. Time outside is also an excellent opportunity to exercise and enhance your overall well-being!
If you live somewhere with limited sunlight, fatty fish like salmon, trout, and mackerel are excellent sources of vitamin D.
10. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to infections. Maintain a healthy weight by consuming a balanced diet and getting enough regular exercise.
Protecting and enhancing your immune system
Protecting and enhancing your immune system doesn't require expensive superfoods or an exclusive gym membership. Instead, focusing on basic healthy living principles and disciplines will significantly strengthen your body's defences, providing a better chance of staying healthy and doing a better job of making you better if you get ill.
Follow the tips we’ve outlined here to take positive steps towards living a healthier, happier life, and remember to consult with a healthcare professional to receive personalised advice based on your situation and circumstances.