Your immune system keeps you strong and healthy — but is there anything you can do to give it a boost, or are you powerless to your genetics? Actually, a healthy lifestyle can do a lot to optimize your immunity, so you can fight off more of the nasty bugs that can make you sick.
Boosting your immune system naturally is all about taking good care of yourself. Make sure you get enough rest, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet full of whole plant foods, healthy fats, and fermented foods. When you avoid added sugars, take the right supplements, and just generally look after your health, you’ll have a stronger immune system and be less likely to get sick.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is one of the most important weapons you have in your arsenal against infection. According to a study published in the journal Sleep, adults who sleep fewer than six hours a night are more susceptible to the common cold than those who sleep more than six hours a night.
That’s because sleep and immune function are closely related. You may have noticed that when you’re sick, you want to sleep more. That’s your body trying to heal itself. Getting more sleep while you’re sick allows your immune system to fight harder to protect you.
So, even when you’re feeling well, make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Kids need even more — up to 14 hours of sleep a night. Improve your sleep by limiting screen time before bed and practicing good sleep hygiene.
Did you know that a single session of moderate-intensity exercise can boost your immunity? It’s true. Doing moderate-intensity exercise regularly can help your immune cells regenerate more often, so you have more “younger” immune cells and fewer “older” immune cells fighting to keep pathogens out of your body. It can also help reduce stress, another major threat to your immune health (which we’ll discuss more below).
Take it Easy on the Sugar
You already know that sugar was bad for you, but it does more than just rot your teeth and make you fat. Eating sugar can also increase systemic inflammation, which can weaken your immune system. Many of the diseases caused by eating too much sugar, like type-2 diabetes, overweight and obesity, and heart disease can all lower your immunity. Limit your refined sugar intake to two teaspoons of sugar per day.
A diet rich in whole plant foods, healthy fats, and fermented foods can support your immune system, too. Whole plant foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, and nuts, contain high levels of antioxidants, which can help reduce systemic inflammation and improve immunity. The healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like salmon and olive oil can also help reduce systemic inflammation. This kind of chronic inflammation may play a role in certain cancers, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
The fiber in whole plant foods supports a healthy gut microbiome, which can protect you from pathogens ingested with your food. Fermented foods, like apple cider vinegar, yogurt, kimchi, natto, sauerkraut, and kefir, contain high levels of probiotics, which also support a healthy gut microbiome. This improves digestion, as well as helping your immune system recognize invading pathogens. For example, one study found that children who drink fermented cow’s milk caught about 20 percent fewer childhood infections. Another study of people infected with rhinovirus found that those who took a probiotic supplement had reduced symptoms and stronger immune response.
There are plenty of supplements available on the market for immune support. If you can’t or don’t want to add a lot of fermented foods to your diet, a probiotic supplement is a good place to start. Some other supplements that can strengthen your immune system include:
- Vitamins C and D
Taking a multivitamin every day is a good choice to fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet, but these supplements can be taken to prevent illness, or to hasten the course of the infection if you do get sick.
Manage Your Stress
Long-term stress can increase systemic inflammation and undermine your body’s immunity, which is why it’s so important to practice daily coping strategies to help you manage your stress. Regular exercise, meditation, journaling, yoga, and mindfulness can all help you manage your stress levels. So can getting a pet, spending time with those you love, and dedicating time to your hobbies. Boosting your immunity naturally is easy — it’s just a matter of taking good care of yourself. Practice self-love and give your body the nutrition, rest, and support it needs, and you could enjoy better health and even longer life.