There are lots of ways to support your body’s immune system. In this post we explore 10 ways to boost your immune system, all of which can be easily included within your daily routine:
- Eat Well
- Sleep Enough
- Exercise Regularly
- Choose Vitamins & Supplements Wisely
- Wash Your Hands
- Stay Hydrated
- Reduce Your Stress Levels
- Limit Your Alcohol Intake
- Practice Deep Breathing
- Propolis for Immune Support
This list is not exhaustive, but these are widely accepted as some of the best things you can do to support your immune system and help your body defend itself against viruses, bacteria and even chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, liver disease and heart disease.
Ready to jump in? Let’s go!
1. Eat Well
Research demonstrates that a healthy gut is vital for a healthy immune system. Our gut plays an important role in regulating our immune response. It is home to trillions of microbes which make up our ‘microbiome’. The more diverse your microbiome, the healthier your gut. This is because different microbes perform different functions, including fighting sources of infection.
The food we choose to eat directly affects the diversity of our microbiome, and so it’s important to eat a wide range of healthy foods. Studies have shown than a Mediterranean diet can improve your gut health and help your body fight back against infection.
A diet rich in a wide range of fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and pulses like lentils is a great place to start. Why not make a habit of cooking healthy vegetable soups and stews – the wider the range of ingredients the better! Healthy fats including extra virgin olive oil and lean meat and fish are also great choices. Fruit and vegetables which are high in vitamin C are a good choice. Studies suggest that being deficient in vitamin C can increase the chance of picking up an infection.
Fermented foods like kimchi, a Korean favourite, and natural yoghurt are also great for your gut. These foods contain friendly bacteria which support your immune system – but also nutrients and vitamins which are important for immune health. Brightly coloured vegetables like carrots and peppters contain lots of vitamin A, for example, which is known to be important for immune function.
Remember to watch your weight. Recent studies continue to show a link between obesity and poor immune function. Read on to find out more ways to support your immune system – including getting enough sleep, regular exercise and limiting your alcohol intake. By adopting some of these practices, and paring them with a healthy diet packed full of fruit and vegetables you’ll be taking positive steps towards a well-functioning immune system.
2. Sleep Enough
Getting enough sleep is vital for health immune function. Sleep gives our bodies chance to heal and recover. This is one of the reasons why people tend to sleep more when they’re unwell – it’s the body’s way of giving itself the best chance of a swift recovery! Sleep is also vital for good mental health too.
While we’re sleeping our bodies produce essential immune system cells including cytokines which fight against inflammation and T cells. T cells are white blood cells that control our immune response. Studies show that if we don’t get enough sleep our immune system weakens, and this increases the chance of becoming ill.
The exact amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, but as a rough guide most adults should be aiming for 7-8 hours per night. Here are a few top tips which might help you get a better night’s sleep:
- Avoid blue light for an hour or so before bed time – this means not looking at screens and not taking your phone into the bedroom
- Try and get into a regular routine of going to sleep at the same time each night, and wake up at a similar time each morning – even on a weekend!
- It’s best to avoid stressful conversations in the hours before bedtime – find something relaxing to do instead
- Sleeping in a completely dark room can help too, especially if you have trouble sleeping, try blackout blinds or curtains if you’re regularly disturbed by daylight too early on a morning
You may need to chat with your GP if you regularly have trouble sleeping, and other factors can affect the quality of sleep you get, such as finding the right matress, room temperature and anxiety. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, it can adversely affect your immune system, so it’s definitely something you should get help with.
3. Exercise Regularly
Exercise doesn’t just help strengthen your body, it’s also great for helping deal with stress. This is because exercise triggers the body to produce endorphins, which have the affect of making us feel happier! They also help combat cortisol levels in the body – the stress hormone. Taking regular, moderate exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health.
Studies have also shown that half an hour of moderate exercise per day stimulates your immune system and improves your circulation. This makes it easier for those immune-boosting T cells to travel around the body, getting to the places they’re need to tackle infection.
People who exercise regularly also tend to have lower rates of acute illnesses, like coughs and colds caused by viruses and bacteria. But they also have lower rates of chronic illnesses, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
If you’re not taking regular exercise, why not begin with one of these options:
- Going for a brisk walk several times per week
- Tackling the ‘Couch to 5k‘ programme and joining your local Park Run
- Joining your local gym and taking part in organised classes or working out 2-3 times per week
- Go swimming
- Find an online fitness video that works for you – there are plenty available for free on YouTube
4. Choose Vitamins & Supplements Wisely
There is strong evidence to suggest that our bodies absorb vitamins and nutrients from foods more easily than supplements. However, sometimes it can be beneficial to supplement our diets with additional vitamins – especially at certain times of year.
Some of the most important minerals and vitamins for improving immune response are:
- Vitamin C – making sure you get enough vitamin C is important as studies have shown it can reduce the duration of coughs and colds
- Vitamin D – our bodies make vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight, but because of the limited amoung of daylight we enjoy through the winter it can be beneficial to take a vitamin D supplement
- Zinc – supplementing with this mineral has been shown to reduce the duration of a cold by up to 33%, and zinc is known to support healthy immune function
Dietary supplements should not be seen as an alternative to a healthy and balanced diet. They’re simply a way to ‘top-up’ on vitamins and minerals which we may not be getting enough of. Taking too much of anything can cause problems too, so never exceed the recommended daily intake and consider talking to your GP before starting to take supplements.
5. Wash Your Hands
We’ve all become even more accustomed to practicing good hand hygiene in recent months. Because we use our hands to touch and hold things they are a primary contributor to the spread of germs. Regularly washing your hands can help reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Using an antibacterial soap or handwash is a great tip – and washing with plenty of hot water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol hand gels can also be a good thing to use, especially in situations where running warm water is more difficult to get hold of.
Washing after exercise is good for your immunity too. Sweat can be a fantastic breeding ground for bacteria, so showering after a workout is important – not least because it will help stop you smelling bad!
6. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated doesn’t necessarily protect you from ifnections, but being dehydrated does have a negative impact on your overall health. Being dehydrated can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance includiung things like mental focus, mood, digestion and even the proper functioning of you heart and kidneys.
The general rule for adults is to drink around 2 litres of liquid per day. Water is recommended because its calorie free and contains no additives or sugar. Some people believe tea and coffee don’t count towards your daily target because of the caffiene they contain – but this isn’t true, provided you’re not only drinking caffienated drinks!
It’s best to limit your intake of drinks which contain lots of sugar, like fruit juice or sweetened tea. However, fruit juice can be a great source of vitamin C and other important minerals, so orange juice, cranberry juice or a multi-fruit juice can all be good options in moderation alongside plenty of water.
Adults don’t always feel thirsty, so you may need to drink more frequently than you expect in order to keep your fluid levels up. The best quide as to whether you’re drinking enough is the colour of your urine – it should be a pale yellow. If you work outside, are particularly active, exercising a lot or live in a hot climate then you’ll likely need to drink more than the 2 litre guide.
7. Reduce Your Stress Levels
We’re becoming more familiar with the ways our mental and physical health connect. One of the main contributors to poor physical health is our mental wellbeing, with stress being a key factor.
Long-term stress can promote inflammation in the body and contribute to imbalances in immune cell function. This is especially true in children where prolonged stress can suppress their normal immune response.
If you need help managing your stress levels, why not try some of the following:
- Exercise – as mentioned above, exercise is a great way to help support your immune system because it reduces the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body
- Mindfulness – taking time to focus on your breathing, to enjoy a beautiful view or to close your eyes and take a few minutes to relax during the busyness of life can be a great way to help moderate your stress levels
- Meditation or yoga – these ancient practices have become commonplace in our modern world because of their ability to help us manage stress levels
- Professional help – you might need to see a counselor or therapist if your stress levels feel unmanageable
8. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Drinking too much alcohol has a negative impact on your immune function. This is because alcohol is a toxin. When we drink alcohol our bodies have to work hard to expel it and detoxify our system and this process takes effort. While this process is happening our normal immune function is neglected, so regularly drinking too much alcohol can cause our immune system to be regularly suppressed. This can result in increased susceptibility to virsues and infections.
Heavy drinkers are known to suffer from more illnesses, including various kinds of cancer, liver disease and pneumonia.
The NHS recommond keeping to 14 units of alcohol per week, you can use this hand alcohol unit calcultor to find out how many units you’re consuming.
Of course, lots of people enjoy as drink with friends, as part of a meal or as part of your weekend relaxation. There are many excellent alcohol-free alternatives available these days, so why not try an alcohol free beer, cider, wine or even an alcohol free G&T next time you go for a drink.
9. Practice Deep Breathing
This one may sound a bit far-fetched, but there’s scientific evidence which demonstrates that when we breathe the movement in our diaphragm stimulates lymph flow. Lymph flow is connected to immune response. There are other benefits too, including:
- Lowering cortisol levels (which reduces stress which can cause inflammation)
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving arterial blood flow – getting those handy T cells to wherever they need to be
Find out more about how controlled breathing supports your immune function here.
10. Propolis for Immune Support
Propolis is well known for its ability to support the body’s immune function. It’s antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal. Taking a propolis supplement like Propolis Capsules or Propolis Tablets can be a great way to benefit from its immune-supporting antioxidant effects on a daily basis.
Unlike pharmaceutical medicines, propolis works by supporting the body’s natural immune function. It doesn’t harm friendly bacteria, so it supports gut health. Propolis has also been shown to work synergistically with antibiotics which no longer work due to antibiotic resistance.
There are many ways to actively support your body’s immune sytem. By making a few small changes to your diet and your health and wellbeing routines you can benefit from increased immunity to against viruses and bacteria. Our top tips are to eat a healthy diet, sleep well and avoid damage caused by stress through exercise and fostering healthy relationships. In addition, vitamin and mineral supplements can help but must be used carefully and staying hydrated and washing regularly will help the body defend itself against infection.