Our immune systems are fantastic disease-fighting fortresses. Inside our bodies are entire armies of blood cells just waiting to attack any foreign invaders. But just like any other part of your health, immune systems are only as effective as we allow them to be. All our behaviors, from the foods we eat to the daily habits we form, can either help or hinder the immune system’s ability to fend off infections.
In addition to practicing good hygiene, here are the ways you should be looking out for your immune system, so it has all the tools it needs to keep you protected.
Some bad habits can wreak havoc on our immune systems, leaving us vulnerable to infections, disease, and more. Take a good look at your daily routine and try to cut out as many of these bad habits as possible.
Sometimes it’s as simple as washing your hands (and washing them properly)1. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer around and try to avoid touching your eyes or face. Sharing drinks or food with other people should be avoided, as well.
Smoking is known to throw your immune system off balance. Smoking can cause autoimmune disorders (conditions where your immune system mistakenly attacks your own cells). Rheumatoid arthritis is one such disease. You can read the CDC’s full guide to smoking and the immune system by using the link included below2.
An alcoholic beverage now and then is harmless for most people, but consistently drinking too much can cause problems with your immune system. Too many libations can inhibit your immune system’s reactivity, making it more likely that a disease will be able to overpower your body.
General drinking guidelines limit you to one or two drinks a day, but this can vary from person to person3. Talk to your doctor to determine what an appropriate level of alcohol consumption looks like for you.
All the vitamins and probiotics in the world can’t make up for a diet of fried foods and sugar. You should prioritize a healthy lifestyle, which includes a balanced diet, before relying on dietary supplements. Simple changes to your diet include cutting back on simple carbs, sugars, and unhealthy fats while increasing your vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
So ditch the sodas and greasy foods and start adding more vegetables, fish, and lean meats to your diet. A candy bar now and then won’t destroy your immune system, but failing to moderate your diet could leave you vulnerable to sickness.
We’ve raved about the benefits of sleep before. Still, it’s worth saying again: getting adequate rest is one of the essential elements of your health. Sleep gives your body time to recover from the day. A full night’s sleep gives your brain the chance to clear out toxins that build up every day and helps your immune system thrive4.
Adults should get a recommended 8 hours of quality sleep each night, but don’t be shy about adding a bit more to that number if you still feel tired. Everyone is a little different.
Now that you’ve cut out the bad habits, you can still do more. There are many simple ways to give your immune system that extra boost it might need during cold and flu season.
Chronic stress can have debilitating effects on your body’s immune system. Many people, especially women, carry a lot of pressure from work, emotional labor at home, and added stressors like family and relationship issues. Something as simple as a five-minute meditation can lower your cortisol levels and help your body relax.
New to the idea of mindfulness? Click here for some simple tips intended for parents, but which can also benefit anyone.
Eating foods that contain beneficial bacteria, such as yogurt or taking probiotics may offer a boost of health to your immune system. Just remember not to rely on these supplements, as they cannot compensate for an inadequate diet.
Even if you had all your vaccines as a child, it might be time for a booster. Talk to your doctor about which vaccines are recommended for your age and area, especially if you plan to travel. Having trouble finding your vaccination records? Your doctor will be able to test you for the antibodies associated with common vaccines to determine whether or not you need boosters.
Get out, get moving, and select any activity that helps you break a sweat. A moderate amount of activity is proven to lower blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health, and assist moderating weight. While we don’t know yet if exercise directly bolsters the immune system, it does work alongside it to keep you healthier, happier, and less stressed.
It’s easy to forget about your immune system, especially when the winter months die off, and spring takes over. However, maintaining a robust immune system requires year-round efforts. So think less about temporarily boosting your immune system and more about establishing the healthy habits that will help you keep it for the long haul. Your health will thank you for it.
(1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Oct 2019) When and How to Wash Your Hands
(2) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Jan 2014) Smoking and Overall Health
(3) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Dec 2019) Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol
(4) Cohut M, PhD (Nov 2019) How Waste Gets 'Washed Out' of Our Brains During Sleep