Have you ever wondered why you catch a cold or fall sick more often than others? Well, you might probably have a weak immune system that is not functioning at its best.
But, what exactly is the immune system? Why is it so important to have a strong immune system? And what actually weakens it? Let’s find out!
Simply put, we are constantly exposed to harmful pathogens that cause infections and various other illnesses. The immune system keeps us healthy by defending our body against these disease-causing viruses and bacteria.
A strong immune system is like a powerful army working round the clock to protect us and keep us hale and hearty. The immune cells are always on the lookout for invading enemies and once they detect an invader, they fight and destroy it successfully, thus fending off infection and disease.
Sometimes the immune system fails to do its job and can leave you more prone to infections. Several factors may compromise immune function including medications, underlying illnesses, stress and poor lifestyle habits too.
However, you can strengthen your immune system and ensure that it’s working optimally by making a few lifestyle changes. Here are some best ways to keep your immune system healthy.
Eat a wholesome diet
Proper nutrition is key to maintaining a strong immune system. Fill your plate with a variety of brightly colored fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices as they provide the macronutrients essential for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Vitamins A, C, D, E and minerals like zinc, iron, folate and selenium are known as immune-boosting nutrients and possess powerful antioxidant activity.
Citrus fruits, berries, carrots, cruciferous vegetables, oily fish, nuts, sweet potato, beans, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, lean meat and poultry are all amazing sources of these nutrients.
Protein-packed foods also play a crucial role in supporting a healthy immune system. Protein helps form antibodies to fight infections effectively.
Lastly, don’t forget the prebiotics and probiotics. They promote a healthy gut which in turn benefits immune health.
Get adequate sleep
Do you take sleep for granted? Here’s why you shouldn’t!
Sleep deprivation can weaken your immune system and increase susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections. Lack of sleep may reduce the production of cytokines, a type of protein released by the immune system while sleeping, which are crucial to fight off infectious diseases.
A recent study also shows that getting enough shut-eye can strengthen the immune system by making T-cells more efficient at fighting off infections.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep every night for better health. If you’re struggling to fall asleep at night, try switching off your smartphone or laptop an hour before going to bed, as they may disrupt sleep. Read a good book or take a warm shower instead.
Stay physically active
Being physically active has many proven health benefits, from strengthening bones and muscles to promoting heart health and preventing chronic diseases.
But, did you know that moderate physical activity is also good for immune health? Yes, exercising regularly reduces inflammation and allows the immune system to function better.
Moreover, physical activity causes immune cells to circulate rapidly in the body to seek out pathogens and damaged cells more quickly. Working out also reduces stress hormones, which can improve immune function and prevent you from falling sick.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day for adults. Moderate physical activity includes walking, cycling, jogging, swimming and yoga.
Don’t go overboard with exercise just to boost immunity, as long and intense workout sessions may do more harm than good.
Learn to deal with stress
Stress is a normal part of life. However, if you don’t learn to deal with stress, it can actually take a toll on your body as well as your immune system.
Chronic stress leads to higher levels of the stress hormone ‘cortisol’ in the body which eventually compromises your immune system. Plus, stress reduces the production of lymphocytes or white blood cells and this can leave you more prone to infections.
Long-term stress can also cause inflammation and increase the risk of diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and depression.
Take some time to destress every day. You can try some amazing stress-relieving techniques like meditation, yoga, journaling, reading or doing something creative.
This is a no-brainer! We all know that smoking is hazardous to health. Smoking not only affects the respiratory and circulatory system but it also wreaks havoc on the immune system.
Cigarette smoking suppresses immunity, destroys the lung tissues and increases the risk of developing respiratory infections like influenza, pneumonia and bronchitis.
The toxins and tar in cigarette smoke destroy antibodies in the bloodstream. This makes it hard for the body to fight off infections and can lead to prolonged sickness.
Plus, it also reduces the levels of antioxidants like Vitamin C and E in the blood which puts you at a higher risk of developing cancer.
What’s more, smoking cigarettes has also been linked to the development of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, according to studies.
Cut back on alcohol
Like smoking, excess alcohol intake also suppresses the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to serious infections. Wondering how?
Alcohol affects the digestive system by killing the good bacteria in the gut which play a significant role in immune function. Consuming alcohol also damages the cells that line the intestines, allowing microorganisms in the gut to leak into the bloodstream.
Furthermore, imbibing alcohol impairs the immune cells in the lungs and lowers your ability to fight infection, leading to a higher risk of pneumonia and a host of respiratory diseases.
According to a study, binge-drinking also weakens the immune system by reducing the white blood cells or monocytes in your body in the first few hours after intoxication.
Therefore, it’s best to cut back on alcohol intake to keep your immune system strong and stay healthy.
Practice good hygiene
The importance of good hygiene cannot be stressed enough, particularly now, when we are in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. If you want to help your immune system, practice proper hygiene habits as they are the best defence against any infection.
Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before cooking or having meals and after sneezing, coughing and using the bathroom. Following a proper hand washing technique is crucial to avoid getting sick and preventing the spread of germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as you are more likely to get infected by the germs in your hands.
Cleaning and disinfecting the kitchen and bathroom surfaces, door handles, tables, chairs and the electronic gadgets you use often are some other measures you can take to get rid of germs and stay safe.
Laugh out loud
Last but not least, laugh out loud and more often. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. A good, hearty laugh can work wonders for your health and the immune system. Sounds incredible, right?
But, how does laughter strengthen the immune system? First off, laughter is an amazing stress-reliever. It helps reduce the levels of stress hormones like cortisol, dopamine and adrenaline and triggers the release of endorphins known as the ‘feel-good’ hormones.
What’s more, laughter increases the number of immune cells and antibodies and makes T-cells more effective, thus contributing to a strong and healthy immune system.
You can add more laughter into your day by watching funny movies, shows or video clips, reading hilarious books, having a chat with a funny friend or even spending time with kids.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Syedah Shifa is a health and lifestyle blogger and the creator of The Health Savvy. Her goal is to inspire people like you to make smart and healthy food and lifestyle choices. Being an avid autodidact, she’s here to share her knowledge and guide you towards better health.