Thankfully, there are things we can do to make sure our immune systems are ready for action.
Enjoy some suggestions from experts at the Spectrum Health Women’s Health & Wellness Center for keeping you and yours in fighting shape.
While none of these tips is a surefire way to ensure you never get sick, when practiced together, they provide your immune system with the tools it needs to keep you healthy and well. They will also help your body recover from infections if you do get sick.
Their 7 top tips:
1. Eat well.
Center your diet on whole plant foods—fruits, whole grains, vegetables such as beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and spices. Herbs and spices are key, because they tend to have high proportions of antioxidants, which help our immune system and reduce inflammation. For more details, listen to this short interview with Kristi Artz, MD, director of Lifestyle Medicine at Spectrum Health.
2. Stress less.
Research shows that hormones associated with our bodies’ stress response, like adrenaline and cortisol, play havoc with our immune systems. To lessen your stress level, avoid overloading your schedule, stay physically active and practice proven relaxation techniques. Techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga.
3. Get outside.
Hundreds of research studies have shown that spending time outdoors reduces stress. Being in nature reduces blood flow in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes fear and anxiety, and boosts activity in the anterior cingulate and the insula, areas associated with empathy and altruism. So lace up those hiking boots and hit the trails—or just curl up on your deck under a cozy comforter.
4. Prioritize sleep.
One of the absolute best ways to arm our immune system is by getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Studies indicate that the amount of sleep we get changes how our white blood cells migrate through our bodies, how our bodies produce cytokines (which are involved in fighting infections), antibody levels, how our immunity-related genes are activated and more.
5. Stay hydrated.
One of the jobs our kidneys perform, in addition to getting rid of substances our bodies can’t use, is to flush away the substances our immune systems identify as potentially harmful. By staying well-hydrated, we can help our bodies clear the detritus of infections (or potential infections) more quickly, giving our immune systems more opportunity to fight off incoming pathogens.
6. Add a supplement.
Vitamin C, Vitamin D and zinc are critical for optimal immune system functioning. For many of us in the northern hemisphere, they can be hard to come by in the winter months. The solution? Add a supplement. Most multivitamins contain all three of these essential nutrients, but if you need to load up on just one, they are available separately.
7. Get a flu shot.
Now more than ever, it’s important to reduce the spread of preventable respiratory diseases. By getting a flu shot, you’ll protect yourself and those around you from influenza. Just be sure to get it at least two weeks before any high-risk situations: it can take up to 14 days for antibodies to fully develop.