The weather continues to get colder, flu season is upon us, and we’re still amid a global pandemic. There’s no doubt that taking care of your immune system is more important than ever. Unfortunately, there are no scientifically proven methods to improve your immune system. However, there are lifestyle changes you can implement to help keep you healthy this season.
Try these seven tips on how to keep your immune system healthy this cold and flu season.
1. Refine Your Diet
A balanced diet helps ensure that you obtain enough nutrients required for your cells’ health and function. Certain dietary habits are likely to better prepare your immune cells for microbial attacks. Notably, vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and certain amino acids in protein are critical for immune cells’ growth and function.
Aim to consume the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for fruits, vegetables, and protein to ensure your body has the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function best. Steer away from processed foods that often lack nutrients and can negatively affect immune health. Lastly, avoid drinking alcohol in excess since it can alter many of the body’s functions, including immunity.
2. Consider Supplements
Most experts suggest a “food first” approach to obtaining immune-boosting nutrients. However, if you’re worried your diet may fall short, consider taking supplements. Research shows that supplementing a balanced diet with certain vitamins, minerals and herbs can improve the body’s immune response. Besides the vitamins mentioned in the previous section, check out these expert-recommend supplements, with everything from elderberry to garlic, to help protect against illnesses this season.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep comes with tons of benefits! Mainly, sleep is crucial for a healthy immune system. While you’re asleep, the body produces proteins called cytokines that regulate immune and inflammation responses. Additionally, pathogen-fighting white blood cells (T-cells) are created during sleep. As we get into the thick of cold and flu season, make sleep a priority: the CDC recommends at least 7 hours of restful sleep each night for the average adult.
4. Exercise Regularly
Exercise is one of the pillars of a healthy lifestyle. It improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and regulates body weight. Physical activity contributes to overall good health that can translate to a healthy immune system. Additionally, studies theorize that exercise improves immune response by:
- Promoting good circulation to move immune cells throughout the body
- Flushing bacteria out of the lungs and airways
- Temporarily increasing body temperature to slow bacterial growth
Find a physical activity that you enjoy and begin reaping the overall benefits of regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times each week to start.
5. Reduce Stress
Stress is an inevitable part of life for most people. However, managing stress is crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system. Research shows that chronic stress weakens the body’s ability to combat infections: the hormones released during stress times suppress the body’s overall immune response. Try implementing a regular meditation practice, listening to music, or debriefing with a loved one to alleviate stress. Or, take a short walk outside to reap the benefits of both exercise and the outdoors.
6. Remember General Precautions
As we enter cold and flu season amid the ongoing pandemic, don’t forget general methods for fighting illnesses. Wash your hands often and sanitize high-touch surfaces. Stay up-to-date on vaccines: consider getting a flu shot this season or the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available. Maintain a safe distance from others while in a crowd and wear a face covering as needed: research suggests that a face mask or other covering can also protect against the flu.
7. Improve Your Immune System This Cold and Flu Season
You may wonder how to keep your immune system healthy. There’s no one right answer. During flu season or other times of illness, people often seek special foods or supplements to boost their immunity. An overall healthy diet and added vitamins may improve your body’s immune response. However, the immune system is complex and influenced by many factors. Aim for an overall healthy lifestyle with adequate sleep, regular exercise and low stress to fight infections and to stay healthy this season.