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10 Habits For Boosting Your Immunity

With cold and flu season ramping up, none of us want to get sidelined by illness. The good news? You can strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of infection with simple daily habits and lifestyle changes.

10 Habits For Boosting Your Immunity
10 Habits For Boosting Your Immunity

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover:

  • The components of the immune system and how immunity works
  • 10 science-backed ways to naturally boost immune health
  • The role of diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, and other factors
  • Actionable tips to easily incorporate immune-supporting habits
  • How certain foods, vitamins, minerals and supplements affect immunity
  • Lifestyle habits to avoid that weaken your immune defenses

Follow these proven strategies to keep your body's natural defenses operating at peak performance all season long.


How the Immune System Works


To understand how to boost immunity, it helps to first understand a little bit about how your immune system functions.

The immune system is your body's defense against pathogens and foreign invaders. Key components include:


  • White blood cells like T-cells, B-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages and neutrophils that circulate detecting threats.
  • Antibodies produced by plasma cells designed to identify and neutralize specific pathogens.
  • Skin/mucous membranes act as physical barriers keeping threats out.
  • Bone marrow and the spleen produce immune cells.
  • Lymph nodes filter through lymphatic fluid and trap/attack pathogens.

When a pathogen breaches your defenses, your immune system identifies it, attacks it with antibodies and immune cells, and remembers it to prevent future illness.

Strengthening these responses helps you avoid and recover from illnesses faster.


10 Research-Backed Ways to Boost Your Immunity


Fortunately, there are many lifestyle habits and daily practices clinically shown to improve immune function. Here are 10 easy ways to naturally enhance your body's defenses:


1. Eat More Immune-Boosting Foods

  • What you eat significantly impacts immune health. Focus on incorporating more:

    • Fruits and vegetables - Contain antioxidants like Vitamin C, polyphenols, carotenoids to protect cells.
    • Nuts and seeds - Good sources of Vitamin E, zinc, selenium.
    • High-quality proteins - Provide amino acids to build immune cells.
    • Probiotic foods - Nourish good gut bacteria. Examples are yogurt, kefir, kombucha.
    • Foods with Vitamin D - Vitamin D activates macrophage immune cells. Found in fatty fish, eggs, fortified dairy.
    • Garlic, ginger, turmeric - Contain antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds.

Eating a diet high in a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats provides your immune system the nutrients it relies on daily.


2. Stay Hydrated

  • Drink enough non-caffeinated fluids each day. Water assists immunity by:

    • Delivering nutrients to cells
    • Removing toxins
    • Maintaining mucous membranes
    • Preventing microbial growth
    • Allowing lymph circulation

For most people, aim for 6-8 cups of fluids like water or herbal tea daily. Infusing your water with lemon can provide extra immune-helping Vitamin C.


3. Prioritize High Quality Sleep

  • Not getting enough sleep hampers the immune system by:

    • Decreasing T-cell production
    • Reducing natural killer cell activity
    • Altering cytokine levels
    • Increasing inflammatory proteins

Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep per night on a consistent schedule to bolster immunity. Set a calming bedtime routine.


4. Reduce Stress

  • Chronic stress negatively affects immunity by:

    • Lowering T cells, NK cells, IgA, and complement system activity.
    • Slowing wound healing.
    • Disturbing cytokine balance.
    • Suppressing inflammatory responses.

Make time to unwind through calming activities like light exercise, social connection, mindfulness practices, laughter yoga, or therapy.


5. Exercise Regularly

  • Moderate physical activity benefits immunity by:

    • Increasing circulation of antibodies and immune cells
    • Decreasing inflammation
    • Enhancing NK cell activity
    • Improving neutrophil function
    • Reducing stress hormones

Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking, swimming, cycling or other cardio you enjoy.


6. Take Key Supplements

  • Supplements can provide immune-enhancing nutrients when dietary intake is insufficient:

    • Vitamin C - Boosts neutrophils, NK cells, lymphocytes, phagocytic cells.
    • Vitamin D - Critical for normal immune cell function.
    • Zinc - Supports development and activation of immune cells.
    • Probiotics - Balance gut bacteria populations. Look for multi-strain formulas.

Talk to your doctor to determine if supplements may be beneficial for your unique needs.


7. Avoid Excess Alcohol

  • Drinking too much impairs immunity by:

    • Depleting levels of nutrients needed for immune function.
    • Increasing inflammation.
    • Suppressing immune cells in the gut.
    • Slowing germ-fighting white blood cells.

No more than 1 standard drink per day is recommended to avoid immune suppression. Heavy drinking worsens outcomes for infections like pneumonia.


8. Quit Smoking

  • Cigarette smoke damages immunity by:

    • Impairing cilia function preventing pathogen clearance.
    • Decreasing immunoglobulins needed for defense against infections.
    • Suppressing macrophages.
    • Weakening T-cell responses.

Quitting smoking eliminates these immune-weakening effects while also decreasing respiratory issues. Ask your doctor for cessation help.


9. Minimize Unnecessary Antibiotic Use

  • While beneficial for bacterial infections, unnecessary antibiotics:

    • Deplete healthy gut bacteria needed for optimal immunity.
    • Allow antibiotic-resistant strains to develop.
    • Potentially alter immune cell function.

Only use antibiotics for bacterial-confirmed illnesses per your doctor's recommendations. Probiotics can help restore good bacteria after antibiotic use.


10. Reduce Chronic Inflammation

  • Ongoing inflammation weakens immunity by:

    • Changing populations of microbes in the gut microbiome.
    • Decreasing regulatory T-cell numbers.
    • Elevating inflammatory cytokines.

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil while limiting processed foods, saturated fats, added sugars, and refined carbs. Stay active and work on reducing stress levels.

Making even small improvements to daily habits that support the immune system can go a long way to helping you stay healthy year round.

Diet, Foods and Immune Health

Diet and nutrition provide the building blocks for proper immune function. Be sure to get sufficient amounts of the following immune-supporting nutrients:

Vitamin C

  • Potent antioxidant that regenerates other antioxidants.
  • Concentrated in fruits/veggies like oranges, grapefruit, kiwi, red bell peppers, broccoli, berries.
  • Assists with microbial killing, lymphocyte proliferation, phagocytosis.
  • Deficiency results in impaired immunity.

RDA: 75-90 mg/day

Vitamin D

  • Activates macrophages and induces antimicrobial peptide secretion.
  • Found in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified dairy and juices.
  • Also produced in the skin through sun exposure.
  • Deficiency is linked with frequent respiratory infections.

RDA: 600-800 IU/day

Zinc

  • Supports normal immune cell growth and function.
  • Concentrated in meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy.
  • Deficiency depresses lymphocyte responses.
  • Can reduce cold duration and severity.

RDA: 8-11 mg/day

Protein

  • Provides amino acids to produce antibodies and immune cells.
  • Choose lean sources like chicken, turkey, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts.
  • Needed for antibody development and pre and probiotics.

RDA: 0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day

Be sure to get a variety of micronutrients through eating different colored fruits/veggies daily. A diverse, balanced diet forms a strong immune foundation.


Lifestyle and Immune Health


Your daily behaviors and habits also influence how well your immune system can protect you from threats. Follow these healthy lifestyle practices:

Find Your Relaxation Rituals

Chronic stress over-activates the sympathetic nervous system, decreasing immune responses. Counteract this by carving out time to deliberately relax through:

  • Yoga and stretching
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Laughing and smiling
  • Listening to music
  • Getting a massage

Stay Active

Regular moderate intensity exercise provides immune benefits by:

  • Increasing circulation of antibodies/cells
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Decreasing stress hormones
  • Enhancing NK cell activity

Aim for 150 minutes per week of activities like brisk walking, swimming, cycling, aerobics.

Get Enough Sleep

Not getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night negatively affects immunity by:

  • Reducing antibodies and infection-fighting cytokines
  • Lowering numbers of NK cells
  • Altering neutrophil function
  • Increasing inflammatory proteins

Keep a consistent sleep schedule and limit light/screen exposure before bed.

Strengthen Social Ties

Having strong social relationships and community provides a buffering effect against stress while also encouraging healthy immune-promoting behaviors. Stay connected.

Laugh More

Laughter yoga, watching comedies, smiling more stimulates circulation, decreases stress hormones, and elevates mood - all beneficial for immunity.

Optimizing daily wellness habits enhances your body's ability to fight illness and infection. Make self-care a priority.


Immune-Weakening Habits to Limit


Just as positive lifestyle factors improve immunity, certain unhealthy behaviors suppress immune defenses. Be cognizant about minimizing:


Excess Alcohol Intake

Drinking heavily:

  • Depletes vitamins/minerals needed for immune cells
  • Triggers inflammation
  • Suppresses immune cells in the gut
  • Slows germ-fighting white blood cells

No more than 1 drink per day is recommended. Avoid binge drinking.

Smoking/Vaping

Cigarette smoke damages immunity by:

  • Impairing cilia function needed to clear pathogens
  • Decreasing immunoglobulins
  • Weakening T-cell responses
  • Suppressing macrophages

Aim to quit smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes to avoid these immune consequences.

Sleep Deprivation

Not getting enough sleep can:

  • Decrease viruses-attacking interferon cytokines
  • Reduce natural killer cell activation
  • Alter total lymphocyte counts
  • Increase inflammation

Adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep per night minimum.

Chronic Stress

High stress long-term can:

  • Suppress protective antibody responses
  • Reduce LK cells needed to destroy infected cells
  • Decrease phagocytosis activity
  • Impair wound healing capacity

Find daily relaxation habits to counteract chronic stress buildup.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Lack of exercise negatively affects immunity by:

  • Impairing circulation of immune cells
  • Increasing chronic inflammation
  • Slowing wound repair capacity
  • Promoting excessive fat tissue associated with inflammation

Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.

Strengthening your immune resilience is possible if you take focused action to incorporate supportive dietary and lifestyle habits daily while minimizing behaviors that suppress immune function. Adopt our science-backed tips for optimizing your body's defenses all season long!

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