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  • Writer's pictureSwan Wellness

Support Your Immune System

As the cold and flu season begins and the COVID-19 virus continues to infect thousands of people, it is important now more than ever to stay healthy. Many of us are seeking ways to boost our immune system and keep our bodies’ defenses as strong as possible. How can we do this?

The good news is that normally your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease-causing microorganisms. But sometimes it fails, and a germ invades successfully and makes you sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system? Technically, no, your immune system cannot be boosted. However, it can be strengthened to run effectively and efficiently to fight off diseases. There are reliable and easy ways to protect your immune system, so it is ready to combat invaders and keep you healthy.

Following general healthy living guidelines is the best way to naturally keep your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by healthy-living strategies. No need to stock up on expensive supplements, bottles of pills, and herbal preparations! Instead, follow these simple (and free!), science-backed ways to ensure your immune system has what it needs to function optimally:

  • Prevent infection by washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, and keeping physically distanced from other people

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of whole, unprocessed foods, especially vegetables and fruit

  • Exercise daily

  • Get adequate sleep

  • Reduce stress

  • Stay hydrated

  • Don’t smoke

The first and most important step we can take to prevent infection and help our immune system is what we are hearing in the news and from doctors and scientists everywhere – wash your hands, don’t touch your face, wear a mask, and keep physically-distanced from other people.

As with most things in your body, a healthy diet is key to a strong immune system. This means making sure you eat plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits. In addition to providing your immune system the energy it needs, a healthy diet can help ensure you're getting sufficient amounts of the nutrients that play a role in maintaining your immune system, including vitamins B6, C, D, and E, as well as zinc, selenium, and a variety of antioxidants. Sources of these important nutrients include green vegetables, spinach, citrus fruits, broccoli, garlic, almonds, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas, Brazil nuts, berries, beets, and oats. It is equally important to avoid sugar and highly processed foods that suppress your immune system and deplete your body’s nutrient balance, which causes inflammation and metabolic disruption.

Regular exercise is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. It also helps support your immune system, increasing your body’s resilience to fight off infection. One way exercise may improve immune function is by boosting your overall circulation, making it easier for immune cells and other infection-fighting molecules to travel easily throughout your body. Studies show that as little as 20-30 minutes of exercise each day helps stimulate your immune system. Even though many of us are avoiding the gym, there are many simple and fun ways to get 30 minutes of exercise at home. One is to participate in my Walk 30 for 30 Challenge!

Drinking water and staying well-hydrated is a key element to maintaining a healthy immune system. Our immune system is dependent on the nutrients in our blood stream, and our blood stream is made mostly of water. Staying well-hydrated allows the proper transportation of nutrients to each organ system. This is also especially important for detoxification, increasing lymphatic draining and making sure we are clearing out any foreign invaders and other waste materials. Being dehydrated slows down the movement of lymph, which can lead to an impaired immune system. To help support your immune system, drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Getting plenty of sleep is another essential way to keep your immune system functioning at its best. Even though sleep doesn’t seem like an active process, your body is busy taking care of many important activities while you sleep, including creating important infection-fighting molecules. Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough good quality sleep are more prone to getting sick when exposed to viruses. Ensure a good night’s sleep by keeping a consistent sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, do not eat or drink too close to bedtime, avoid alcohol and caffeine close to bedtime, remove electronic devices from your bedroom, and optimize your bedroom environment by minimizing external noise and light and maintaining a comfortable room temperature.

Research has demonstrated the close relationship between the mind and the body. A wide variety of illnesses, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress. Even low levels of constant stress cause the body to produce cortisol and over time elevated levels of cortisol lower your ability to fight off infections. Taking time every day to reduce stress through meditation, a walk in nature, laughing with friends and family, or a warm bubble bath can relieve stress.

Finally, taking steps to maintain a strong immune system is especially important as we age. As we get older, our immune response capability becomes reduced, which in turn contributes to more infections and diseases. Whatever your age, researchers encourage following these basic healthy lifestyle strategies to help your immune systems function optimally.

And sometimes, even with lots of sleep, healthy food, and exercise, we will still get sick. It's OK! The discomfort you feel when you are sick, and all the icky things that happen, such as a sore throat, congestion, nasal discharge, and phlegm, is your immune system doing its job fighting the invader. The key is to take time off to rest and recharge (and avoid getting others sick). In no time, you will be feeling better and ready to get back to your regular routine.

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