We’ve all heard the saying “don’t put off tomorrow what can be done today,” right? There are some things that deserve our attention today and every day. How we treat our bodies and support our immune system should sit at the top of the list. If we are so run down that we can’t fight off illness, we may be looking at expensive medical bills, pain, and suffering, and potentially even cutting short our opportunity to live a long and healthy life.
One misconception about immunity is that it needs to be extra strong to ward off illness. Although, in theory, that sounds great, too much of anything is no good. An immune system that fights everything (like good bacteria, food, or good cells) is just as bad as one that isn’t fighting enough – this is called an autoimmune disease (15). This is why the best-case scenario is having a balanced immune system (also known as “homeostasis”). The way to approach a balanced immune system is to be mindful of what we put into our bodies, and aware of how the daily choices we make work to create the overall picture of our health. In essence, supporting your immune system can be achieved through daily acts of self-care. Let’s go over a few Do’s and Don’ts in your journey to support your immune system.
Don’t: Get stuck on the couch or desk chair for more than 30 minutes at a time
We all know that it’s important to exercise, but it can be tough to make it a habit that sticks. It may be helpful to know that even adding just moderate exercise to your routine may help to reduce inflammation (a huge precursor to illness), improves our immune system’s reaction time to the presence of bad cells, and even relieves stress – another known contributor to disease (1). If that doesn’t have you jumping from the couch, quite literally, the act of sitting may shorten your lifespan. A study conducted over the course of 4 years determined that in their sample, both the total time spent sitting and the accumulation of continuous bouts of sitting were associated with premature death (2). The study also stated the importance of getting up to move every 30 minutes for a minimum of 5 minutes. Don’t feel scared or ashamed, but rather feel encouraged to add some movement into your day to give your immune system a fighting chance at combatting illness.
Do: Get consistent with a sleep routine
There’s a large body of evidence (8, 9, 10) that says sleep is crucial to a well-balanced immune system. Not only does your body depend on sleep to fight off illness, but our ability to get restful uninterrupted sleep also relies on a healthy immune system (3). You’ve certainly experienced this in your own life – the feeling of exhaustion after many sleepless nights turns into aches, pains, and the sniffles forcing you to slow down and rest in bed. Creating a daily routine that prioritizes sleep is one of the most important things you can do to support your immune system in warding off illness earlier and with greater intensity.
Don’t: Forget to drink enough water
Water is one of the most important ingredients to a balanced immune system. Every cell that calls you home needs water to function properly. Read that again. Your brain, your heart, your lungs, your joints, your skin all need water to do their jobs. Water supplies oxygen to our cells. Our cells use oxygen to break down sugar and supply energy to our organs. Without proper hydration, our organs struggle to perform even their most basic functions and our immune systems become taxed, making way for illness and disease. Water also helps us flush out the daily toxins we absorb and aids in digesting our food. So, grab a glass and fill it up throughout the day, because a well lubricated cell helps your immune system to thrive.
Don’t: Get into the habit of regularly consuming nutrient-deficient foods
Self-regulation is tough. We’ve all fallen prey to the 3rd or 4th cookie calling our name or looking down to see half a bag of chips gone. There’s a reason these foods are labeled “junk” foods. When this becomes the norm in our eating habits our bodies are not only taxed by processing the excess sugar and carbs, but also lack the proper nutrients to support healthy cell and organ function. You may have heard the phrase “eat the rainbow” in fruits and vegetables, and this advice is great in supporting your immune system. Citrus fruits are excellent sources of vitamin C, leafy greens provide plenty of antioxidants as well as vitamins A and E, peppers and carrots provide an abundance of beta carotene – which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and roots like ginger and turmeric are packed full of anti-inflammatory properties. By eating foods rich in immune-boosting supplements and nutrients (11) you support the optimal function of your organs, giving your body an extra helping hand when illness comes knocking.
Do: Fight inflammation
Typically, when we think of inflammation, we consider it to be a bad thing. That’s both right and wrong. It’s our body’s way of telling us there’s an issue. When we have an injury or an illness trying to take root, our body sends white blood cells to the site to fight off infection. It’s that process that inflames our lymph nodes or the site of the injury, and it’s a good thing. However, inflammation in excess, or chronic inflammation, is known to be the root of many health dysfunctions and diseases (5). Excessive inflammation can be caused by many things, including chronic stress or PTSD (4), consuming inflammatory foods and beverages, and an inactive lifestyle. Some of the worst inflammatory foods include sugar, deep-fried fast foods, gluten, and refined carbs.
How to support our immune system with natural products
Although a nutrient-rich diet is the best approach to getting your daily vitamins and minerals, you may also want to use supplements to boost your immune system. Organic herbs like Elderberry (6), Echinacea (7), Ginseng (7), Astragalus Root (7), Rooibos (12), Hibiscus (14), and Peppermint (13) have been shown to aid the body in essential functions like fighting inflammation, toxins, fungi, and bacteria. Combine a few of these herbs, and you’ve got a powerful home-made “immunity tea.” Choosing products that use mother nature’s immune-boosting herbs is a great route to take in supporting your immune system, especially when you feel the tickle of illness.
While these tips are great for supporting a balanced immune system, it should be noted that no amount of sleep, laps around the block, or servings of broccoli can prevent you from contracting COVID-19 or most other common viruses. It’s important to keep social/physical distance, quarantine if possible, wash your hands thoroughly, and refrain from sharing food or beverages with others. Combining these immune-boosting tips with government recommended advice on COVID-19, a balanced diet, consistent sleep patterns, and daily acts of self-care will have you performing at your very highest level.
1: Exercise and the Regulation of Immune Functions
2: Patterns of Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in U.S. Middle-Aged and Older Adults
3: The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease
4: Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases
5: Inflammageing: chronic inflammation in ageing, cardiovascular disease, and frailty
6: Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travelers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial
7: Immune system effects of echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus: a review
8: Sleep and immune function
9: The Sleep-Immunity Relationship
10: The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease
11: The balance between food and dietary supplements in the general population
12: Influence of processing stages on antimutagenic and antioxidant potentials of rooibos tea
13: A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.)
14: Multi-Targeted Molecular Effects of Hibiscus sabdariffa Polyphenols: An Opportunity for a Global Approach to Obesity
15: Introduction to immunology and autoimmunity