Your immune system is complex. To be specific, your immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends your body against infection. It has three major functions: fight disease-causing germs, recognize and neutralize harmful substances, and fight disease-causing changes in the body, such as cancer cells.
But how do you make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape? It all starts with living a healthy lifestyle—which doesn’t need to involve a major overhaul of your current way of living! Changing up your daily routine to help strengthen your immune system is easier when you take it one step at a time. Before you know it, healthy habits will become second nature. You can boost your health on your own and protect your immune system in a number of ways. To do this you should:
- Stay up-to-date on vaccines. The annual flu shot vaccine helps your body produce antibodies that develop to strengthen your immune system, helping you fight the flu virus. The CDC also recommends every adult to get a Tdap vaccine If they did not receive one as an adolescent to protect against whopping cough, and a tetanus booster every 10 years. If you haven’t already, consider getting the COVID-19 vaccine and booster. Getting vaccinated yourself helps protect you and people around you. If you are immunocompromised, check with your doctor about which other vaccines you may need. They may recommend a shingles vaccine or pneumonia shot, if applicable to you.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Your immune system needs proper resources in order to function at peak performance. In addition to rest, you also need a healthy, balanced diet and good hydration. Nourishing your body can help you feel stronger and healthier, helping you avoid sickness. You can get started by including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Lean proteins are built of amino acids and omega-3s, which are a great source of energy and can help you beat fatigue. There are also certain foods, termed “superfoods” that can give you an extra boost of health benefits. And some of them may surprise you! Try incorporating ginger, oranges, blueberries, tomatoes, salmon, dark chocolate, green tea, garlic and apples to your diet. These help your body produce white blood cells to fight off infections and rid you of cold and flu—causing germs and viruses. Eating foods with plenty of nutrients may also reduce symptoms of sickness and the common cold.
- Eat vitamin rich foods. While vitamins and supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up on essential nutrients is to get them straight from food. Your body absorbs and uses vitamins and nutrients better when they come from a dietary source. Eating food from every color of the rainbow can help ensure you’re incorporating your daily nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Vitamins C, E, D and B6 are vital to your health.
- Vitamin C. While you may be used to getting your daily dose of vitamin C in citrus fruits such as oranges, limes, grapefruits, lemons, tangerines and clementine oranges, there are other unlikely suspects you may not have considered. Bell peppers, tomatoes and papaya also contain high concentrations of vitamin C, helping your body produce white blood cells to fight off infections, and rid you of cold and flu-causing germs and viruses.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage, aids the body in fighting off infection and improves your immune function. Foods that include vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach and peanuts.
- Vitamin B6. This vitamin is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. A deficiency in vitamin B6 could lead to a series of serious complications. Foods rich in vitamin B6 include chicken, fish such as salmon and tuna, tofu, bananas, avocados and chickpeas.
- Vitamin D. This nutrient helps promote strong teeth and bones, and helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. A deficiency in vitamin D can cause health complications in children and adults. Besides spending some time in the sun, you can get your daily dose of vitamin D by consuming fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, milk, and even some breakfast cereals.
- Exercise regularly. When you’re under a lot of stress, your body produces stress hormones that suppress your immune system. Physical activity releases endorphins, which help increase feelings of well-being and improve your energy level. For maximum benefits, try to get 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
- Stay hydrated. Most people don’t realize they aren’t drinking enough water throughout the day. Water does much more than keep your body hydrated. It also boosts your body’s essential functions, such as kidney filtration, regulation of blood pressure and body temperature, and production of hormones, to name just a few. If you don’t like plain water, try adding fresh fruit, such as berries, pineapple, lemons, oranges and cucumbers to give it some zest. While drinking water on a regular basis helps your immune system function properly, using a humidifier to get moisture in the air can also keep you healthy—especially because cold and flu viruses are most active in drier environments.
- Minimize stress. Stress is a normal part of everyone’s life. But when your body is faced with demands, chronic stress begins to take hold. Chronic stress can lower your immune system and lead to a myriad of health problems. There’s a lot of ways you can reduce your stress, as it affects everyone differently. Exercising, smelling candles or essential oils, drinking less caffeine, writing in a gratitude journal, laughing and talking to a friend can all help you destress.
- Get enough rest. Letting yourself get run down is one way to find yourself sick with a cold or the flu, since exhaustion can weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to illness. Your immune system relies on sleep to function well. In fact, lack of sleep can even make it more difficult for you to fight illness. To stay well, be sure to get enough sleep each night. Most people need between six and eight hours. Take a warm bath or shower, listen to soothing music or use essential oils before bed. Having a set sleeping schedule can make you calmer, improve your mood, help your metabolism and regulate your body’s production of melatonin (the hormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle).
- Keep up with preventive care. Your number one way to keep you and your family safe is with preventive care. When combined with healthy eating, exercise, vaccines and early detection are your key to a long and healthy life. Check your health plan, but most cover, physical exams and immunizations. Preventive screenings may vary depending on your age, health status, family history and risk.
- Adjust your lifestyle to your health needs. Sometimes health conditions can alter your lifestyle, making it harder to manage your health care needs. If you’re managing diabetes, a heart condition or weight-loss for example, protecting your immune system might look a little different. But a tobacco free lifestyle, drinking in moderation, eating a heart healthy diet, exercising and staying current with your vaccines all are steps you can start to take to boost your immune system if you have a health condition.
Please note: Consult your doctor or health care professional before altering your diet, starting a new exercise routine, adjusting your lifestyle or adding in vitamins and dietary supplements. Vitamins and supplements may cause interactions with current medication and they should not be used as a replacement for a healthy lifestyle.
Stay safe and stay healthy!
Just remember, whatever you choose, be sure to listen to your body. Be the healthiest version of you by strengthening your immune system this year. With these tips, you can boost your immune system, stay well and live a happier, healthier life.
This article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant as medical advice.