When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit us, the importance of our immune systems became more evident than ever. Many of us tried to improve our immunity by using supplements and changing our lifestyles.
But what are the most effective ways to strengthen your immune system? Here’s a quick guide on the best natural ways to promote immunity.
What do we mean by immunity?
Usually, when we talk about “boosting” the immune system, we mean preventing illness. There’s no way to actually see how strong your immune system is other than monitoring how often you get sick.
When it comes to COVID-19, the best ways to prevent illness are to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, and wear a mask. These methods protect your health as well as those around you.
It’s important to remember that your immune system is not entirely in your hands. Some people are naturally more resistant to illness than others. Many people also have conditions that weaken their immune systems. However, we can make certain lifestyle changes to prevent illness and improve our overall health and wellbeing.
Pandemic or not, there are a few scientifically-backed ways you can protect your immune system. Although these are not proven to protect against COVID-19, they are important lifestyle changes that we should all try.
1. Eat antioxidant-rich foods
The word “antioxidant” is used a lot nowadays, but what does it actually mean?
Antioxidants protect your body against free radicals, which are compounds that can cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation weakens your immune system.
Antioxidants can be found in plenty of foods, including:
- Vegetables (especially broccoli, spinach, potatoes, and carrots)
- Fruits (especially dark red and purple fruit, like berries and red grapes)
- Legumes (especially red, black, and pinto beans)
- Spices (especially clove, cinnamon, turmeric, oregano, and thyme)
- Seeds and nuts
While you can get some antioxidants from supplements, the cheapest and most effective way to consume antioxidants is by eating whole, unprocessed foods. This way, your body is also getting other essential nutrients.
2. Eat healthy fats
You can find healthy fats in olive oil, fish, avocado, chia seeds, and supplements.
3. Limit your sugar intake
Start by reducing the amount of sugar you take in your tea or coffee. Try to eliminate sugary drinks, including sodas and fruit juices. Find non-sugary snacks that you love and keep them on hand for when the cravings hit.
4. Drink more water
Drinking water is a great way to avoid drinking sugary drinks. Staying hydrated is important for your overall health, including your immune system.
Dehydration can cause issues with your kidneys, heart, and digestive system – which can affect your immune system. It can also cause headaches, poor mood, an inability to focus, and low energy levels. To prevent this, drink water often.
Struggling to drink enough water? Keep a water bottle in your line of sight all day, whether that’s on your desk or in your car. Carrying a water bottle in your bag is also a great idea. If regular water feels too boring for you, try sparkling water or add some lemon juice.
5. Get enough sleep
Studies have shown that sleep really helps with your immune system. For example, one study looked at the sleeping patterns of 164 healthy adults. The study found that those who slept fewer than 6 hours every night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept for longer than 6 hours.
If you struggle to stay asleep, try to eliminate noises and irritations in your bedroom. Ensure that your room is at a comfortable temperature, that it’s dark enough, and that your bed is comfortable. Because we’re in our bedrooms every night, we seldom notice these issues until we really take a step back.
Still struggling with insomnia? Speak to your doctor about using a melatonin supplement.
6. Exercise moderately
Frequent, moderate exercise has been linked to improving the immune system. This could include something like brisk walking, swimming, or light hiking. In general, it’s recommended that you do 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week.
If the idea of exercising isn’t very appealing to you, try to find one or two activities you like. Would you be keen to try yoga, a walk on the beach, or soccer with some friends? Make an effort to do that form of exercise a few times a week. Make it as fun and exciting as possible.
Need extra motivation? Gamify fitness by using a step tracker or an app like Strava. This encourages you to keep exercising, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.
7. Reduce stress
It’s easier said than done, but reducing stress is essential. Stress wreaks havoc on your immune system.
In times of stress, scale back on your commitments. Don’t volunteer to work at a bake sale, don’t take on extra responsibility at work, don’t buy that hard-to-maintain houseplant.
Instead, prioritize ways to relax. Meditation might be a cheesy suggestion, but it really works! Journaling, relaxing exercises, and spending time with loved ones can help you stay calm. A creative hobby is also great for processing your emotions and having fun.
If you need some extra help, it’s a great idea to go to therapy. If you’re on a tight budget, online therapy options like BetterHelp and Talkspace can be cheaper than traditional therapy. You’ll still get to talk to a qualified professional, but it’ll all be through text, phone call, or video call. A therapist can help you learn to process your feelings and make positive changes in your life.
It’s best to find a de-stressing activity that works for you and do it often. We all handle stress in our own ways, so experiment until you find something you love.
8. Use the right supplements
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that there’s no evidence to support the use of any supplement to prevent or treat COVID-19.
However, certain nutrients are essential for the health of your immune system. If you lack these nutrients, it may lower your overall immunity. Taking supplements could help you get the right amount of nutrients.
Supplements that are linked to better immunity include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
We recommend talking to a doctor before buying a supplement. It might be necessary to go for a blood test to check whether you have any deficiencies.
9. Get some sun
Sunlight is an underrated source of health and longevity.
Firstly, the sun stimulates your body’s own production of vitamin D. As mentioned, this vitamin is important for the function of your immune system.
Sunlight can also help balance our circadian rhythms – your body’s innate “clock” that tells you when to sleep and when to be awake. Your circadian rhythm is influenced by the light around you, so if you’re struggling to maintain a healthy sleep pattern, get sunlight every morning.
Of course, you should use a high-quality sunscreen if you go into the sun for more than a few minutes at a time.
10. Visit the doctor regularly
Many conditions can be treated more effectively if you’re diagnosed early. This includes conditions that lower the immune system, like HIV, diabetes, and cancer.
It’s a good idea to regularly check in with your doctor, not just for the sake of your immune system, but for the entirety of your physical health. And, while we’re at it, don’t forget to see your dentist for regular check-ups!
Regardless of whether you’re facing a pandemic, flu season, or a strange stomach bug that’s doing the rounds, there are many ways to protect your health. While none of these tips are fool-proof methods of preventing illness, they might lower your risk of falling sick.
It might feel like the above lifestyle changes are impossible for you, especially if you’re currently leading a less-than-healthy lifestyle. The good news is that you can start improving your lifestyle today. Take one simple step – get to bed an hour early, take a quick walk, or eat an antioxidant-rich salad. Slowly build those positive habits. Your health is worth the investment!
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