It goes without saying that 2020 has been a crazy year. If ever there has been a time to concentrate on our immune health, the global COVID-19 pandemic would certainly be it.
The immune system is tasked with the important job of protecting our bodies from infectious microorganisms - bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi - and other changes in the body that cause disease and illness. Should our immune system fail to work properly, the effects can be catastrophic. Our bodies need the strongest defenses possible. While we cannot technically “boost” our immune system, as it is a complex network consisting of many parts, there are a number of things we can do in our day-to-day lives to naturally strengthen it.
1. Get Adequate and Quality Sleep
Research shows that getting enough high-quality sleep is important in maintaining a strong immune system. Not only does sleep deprivation increase the likelihood of falling ill after exposure to harmful viruses and bacteria, it may also take you longer to recover. Why might this happen? It partly has to do with cytokines, proteins produced by the immune system during sleep. Your body needs an increased amount of some cytokines when it experiences infection, inflammation, or stress. However, lack of sleep may decrease cytokine production as well as antibodies and cells that help fight infection. Sleep deprivation is also associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The recommended amount of sleep for adults is 7-8 hours. This number is higher for those who are younger - 9-10 hours for teenagers and 10+ hours for school-aged children.
2. Quit Smoking & Limit Alcohol Consumption
Smoking and excess alcohol consumption are known to compromise the immune system and make it more difficult for the body to fight off disease. Both habits increase the risk for developing immune and autoimmune disorders as well as other life-threatening diseases like lung cancer and liver failure. They can also lead to an overall lower quality of life.
If you are a regular smoker and/or heavy drinker, it is important to seek the support you need to help you quit in order to build your body’s defenses to its full potential.
3. Eat A Healthy, Balanced Diet
One of the most vital components of maintaining overall good health is a well-balanced diet. This is especially true when it comes to keeping our immune system defenses performing at an optimal level so they are ready to fight when foreign invaders attack. A strong immune system receives much of its nourishment from the micronutrients found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These nutrients, such as Vitamins A, C, and D, Zinc, and Selenium, support the body’s infection-fighting capabilities by shortening the duration of infections or even preventing them entirely. It is also best to limit your intake of red meat, refined sugars, and ultra-processed foods.
If your diet is not meeting your micronutrient needs - perhaps you can’t stand most vegetables - you may choose to enhance your diet with natural vitamin and mineral supplements. Speak with your doctor to determine which supplements may be right for you.
4. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is key to preventing diseases, such as heart disease, that weaken the body and leave you more susceptible to infectious foreign microorganisms. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to loss of muscle strength, poor circulation, and increased inflammation, all of which can negatively impact immune health. Try incorporating a couple hours worth moderate exercise into your weekly routine by going to the gym 3-4 days a week (once it is safe to do so), taking 20-30 minute walks daily, or even doing sets of jumping jacks inbetween tasks at home. Don’t overdo it, though, as intense exercise can strain your muscles and cause injury.
5. Reduce Stress and Practice Healthy Stress Management Techniques
As all of us have recently come to understand all too well, stress is a part of everyday life. Prolonged stress, however, can leave immense damage on our health. Elevated levels of stress are associated with negative effects on many parts of the body, including our digestive, circulatory, and immune systems. When we experience stress, our immune system has a more difficult time fighting off infection-causing bacteria and viruses. Those with chronic stress face a higher risk for developing illnesses and infections as a result, which unfortunately may increase stress levels further.
Some of our favorite ways to combat stress include:
Practicing relaxation techniques through yoga and meditation
Staying connected with loved ones - even if it’s virtually
Making time for hobbies and interests
Spending time outside - sunlight is a great source of Vitamin D!
Positive thinking and affirmations
Taking CBD to Manage Stress
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural cannabinoid from the cannabis plant that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to produce therapeutic effects and symptom relief for those with certain conditions. Research to date suggests that CBD may be a useful tool for stress and anxiety relief.
Now is the prime time to start taking better care of your immune health. While none of these steps (or any, for that matter) will make your immune system 100% resistant to illness and infection, they can effectively increase your chances of fighting off or quickly recovering from sickness. Don't forget to also practice general healthy practices, such as washing your hands, handling raw meet with care, and regularly disinfecting your phone and other frequently used items.
Since we’re all spending a lot more time indoors, perhaps this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for to finally start that new workout, diet, or meditation routine - your body will thank you later!