The immune system is fundamental to your health and wellness. If it gets suppressed--things aren't going to go too great.
Fortunately, there are some natural and healthy habits you can start doing to boost your immune system and improve other areas of your health.
This will be a look at 5 of those immune system boosting habits.
What Is The Immune System?
We throw the term immune system around so much that you might not even be exactly sure what it is.
There are many activities, nutrients, and supplements that claim to boost your immune system — and that sounds great — but what is it exactly?
Some think of the immune system like it’s a bodily organ similar to the liver or kidneys, but it’s important to get the correct understanding of it.
The immune system is just made up of a series of cells, but that work together for the common good — keeping you alive…
Every day, your body is under attack from many things, viruses, bacteria, telemarketers, etc.
Our bodies have developed a complex, and intelligent, army of cells that, among other things, is important for:
- Activating other cells
- Producing antibodies
- Killing infected cells
- Fighting fungi and bacteria
The immune system is made up of 21 different cells, and each of them can be responsible for up to four different responsibilities.
This is to all say that this is a very complex network of cells that are communicating with each other to, again, keep you alive.
For example: say one of these cells’ primary jobs is to kill enemies. It can then be made up of three other cells that have secondary duties to cause inflammation, activate cells, and communicate with others.
Your Immune System in Action
Here's a real-life example of your immune system in action. You’re out for a walk and walk by a fence and cut yourself on a rusty nail.
The first barrier of your immune system has been breached — your skin has been cut open.
Nearby bacteria jump into that wound and enter the bloodstream. They start to use your body's resources and double in numbers around every 20 minutes.
When the population of bacteria reaches a certain number, they start to affect the body by changing the surrounding environment.
Your immune system now jumps to action to try to stop them with guard cells.
The guard cells can destroy a lot of the outside bacteria themselves. Inflammation in the body begins to make the fight easier.
An example of this inflammation is the redness on a finger that has a sliver in it.
The guard cells can communicate with other cells to provide more support, urgency, and even let them know where they are in the body.
Then, dendritic cells are brought in. These cells can read the information of the invading bacteria and can decide to bring in bacteria-killers in the form of antiviral cells.
This is an overly simple look but shows you how brilliant this complex system is.
Now, what are the things you can do to make your immune system as strong as possible?
1. Make Sure to Get More Regular Exercise
Exercise may seem obvious, but it's important to remember why it's is so beneficial.
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Muscle, joint, and tendon strength
- Improved bone strength
- Improved circadian rhythm and better sleep
- Better hormonal profiles improved insulin sensitivity and lowered insulin resistance
With the immune system, it’s important to get regular, consistent exercise.
You don't have to run a triathlon or do Crossfit every day — but those are still great if you enjoy them.
Get your body moving whether it's hiking, walking, swimming, tennis, biking, strength training, jogging, etc.
Variety will be important when it comes to exercise so you don't get stuck in a rut.
How much exercise do you need each week? The sweet spot is around 150 minutes a week. This can be broken up a few different ways.
- It could be 20 minutes a day
- 30 minutes 5 days a week
- Or around 40–45 minutes 4 days a week.
Exercise boosts your immune system, can flush bacteria out of your lungs and airways, improves defense activity, and boost mood-enhancing chemicals.
Those mood-enhancing chemicals include endorphins--which you may be familiar with--and they also help boost the immune system.
2. Improved Your Nutrition As Soon As Possible
Focus on consuming foods rich in some of these immune-boosting nutrients:
- Vitamin C, E, A, D
- Folic acid/folate
Some of the best choices that contain these include:
- Red bell peppers
- Citrus fruits
- Sweet potatoes
If you can, go for organic whenever possible, but make the focus on real, whole foods.
Try to get a lot of different colors with your fruit and veg--especially dark leafy greens. The different colors will help giv you a wider range of vitamins and minerals.
The deep green color represents a higher chlorophyll content which contains more phytonutrients, polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
If you consume animal protein, try to get the most natural you can. Ideally, pastured, grass-fed, animal protein would be best.
These organic options can be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin B12, and iron — all things important for a stronger immune system.
3. Consume More Probiotic-Rich Foods
A majority of the immune cells in your body live outside the small intestine.
This is one of the primary sources of defense against foreign substances that can make it past the gut.
If your gut isn't healthy, your immune system will not be at its best. Healing will also be difficult.
Eating probiotic-rich foods is a way to boost your good gut bacteria.
Our microbiome can be depleted because of things like antibiotics, medications, smoking, alcohol, pollution, sugar, and artificial ingredients.
Probiotics can help to seed the gut which may improve immunity and boosts your overall health. There are probiotic supplements, but the following foods contain them, too.
- Pickled foods
4. Make Sleep a Priority--Especially Quality Sleep
This is one of the easiest ways to boost your immunity. Sleep is when you grow, repair, rejuvenate, and also improve your immunity.
If you neglect sleep, you may raise stress hormones like cortisol.
When you neglect sleep, your body isn't sure why you’re awake. All it knows is something serious must be happening to keep you up.
You may be up all night watching a House Hunters marathon, but your body doesn’t know that. Your body may believe that a trauma, attack, environmental issues, famine, or disaster are happening or why else would you still be awake?
This may activate a stress hormone release which may lower immunity. It may also lead to inflammation and other chronic conditions.
When you sleep, you allow your body to burn off those stress hormones, decrease cortisol and produce new immune cells.
8 hours of sleep a night is still a good goal to aim for.
The important thing to remember is to not neglect it. If you’re feeling run down, overly stressed, or are getting sick, make sure to get even more sleep.
You won't be lazy, you'll be making your immune system as strong as possible. Burning the candle at both ends will not work out in the long run.
5. Try to Lower Your Stress Levels As Much As Possible
Most people are finding themselves in a chronic state of stress — so don't make it worse by depriving yourself of sleep.
A little stress is ok as it’s important for your fight-or-flight response. But that’s for isolated moments, like jumping out of the way of a speeding car
If stress is constant in your life, it becomes a chronic problem that can be at the root of many issues including:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Cognitive issues
This is a small sample but you can see the damage stress can do.
Stress lowers your ability to fight off antigens leaving you more prone to illness and infection.
If you get sick, it will be even tougher to fight it off. Stress hormones such as corticosteroids are released, which may suppress your immunity by lowering the number of lymphocytes in your body.
Sleep is one big way to lower your stress, but there are some other solutions, too.
Exercise will boost your endorphin level and can help improve immunity. Exercise is also a great way to lower stress.
Focusing on your breathing is another great way to deal with stress.
This may be meditation or yoga, but it’s important to focus on breathwork.
Most of us are shallow breathers, and we don’t get that deep inhalation that can combat stress.
When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to help your body calm down.
Deep breathing may also stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, and that may make you feel calmer.
You'd be surprised how often you hold your breath during the day. Try to be aware of that and focus on true deep breathing--not shallow breathing.
This shallow breathing--or holding your breath--may be the cause of elevated stress hormones.