A strong immune system can help your body fight infection and keep you healthy. The lifestyle you lead can greatly influence your immune system’s ability to respond to threats and keep you healthy.
As with so many aspects of your health, the foundation is built on healthy eating, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and managing your stress.
Support Your Gut Health
70% of your immune system is in your gut. Often times when your gut is healthy, you’re healthy.
What we eat affects the composition of bacteria found in our gut. That bacteria makes up the microbiome, which interacts directly with our immune system.
You can aid the bacteria in your gut by consuming a diet with plant foods that are high in fiber.
Many Americans eat a diet with sugars, processed foods, and saturated fats, which lead to less diversity of bacteria in your gut.
Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables
Besides supporting your gut, Cleveland Clinic recommends 4 foods that can have a positive impact on your immune system:
- Garlic: Allicin, which is found in garlic, can give a boost to your immune system. The benefits often come from eating raw garlic, but if this is not bearable, roasted garlic is also an option.
- Prebiotics: Jerusalem artichokes, green bananas or plantains, Jicama root and asparagus contain prebiotics, which can help keep your gut healthy.
- Vitamin C-rich Foods: Oranges, broccoli, kiwi or cantaloupe all provide great sources of vitamin C, which is known to be a great vitamin for boosting your immune system.
- Antioxidants: Berries, carrots and spinach (as well as other brightly colored foods) have antioxidants that protect you against oxidative stress which in turn can strengthen your immune system.
Other foods that can be great for backing your immune system include:
- Blueberries: Flavonoids in blueberries play an important role in the immune defense of your respiratory tract. This can help protect against respiratory tract infections or common colds.
- Turmeric: Easy to add to your cooking, this spice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Green tea: With only a small amount of caffeine, the flavonoids in green tea can aid in reducing your risk of the common cold.
- Almonds: Packed with key nutrients like vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, and fiber, just a small handful of almonds can give your immune system a boost.
- Red Bell Peppers: Another great source of vitamin C, but this time with the twist of being without the sugar content found in fruit.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine found that those that exercised at least 5 days a week had half the risk of getting a cold than those who led a more sedentary lifestyle.
Finding ways to stay active in the Minnesota winter can include walking outside, going to the gym, or creating your own at-home exercise program. Pick something active you like to do and have fun with it. This often yields better results than suddenly starting a rigorous exercise schedule that you may abandon.
Get adequate sleep
There’s only so much time in a day which in turn can make getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night difficult. But it’s important you prioritize sleep, particularly during the winter months. Plan accordingly to set aside enough time for sleeping each night.
There is a difference between “sleep” and “sleep opportunity.” The amount of time between when you lay down for the night and when your alarm is set to go off is your “sleep opportunity.” Naturally, you will not actually sleep this entire time as it will take your body some time to actually fall asleep – that amount of time is the actual “sleep” you are getting.
If you want to get 8 hours of sleep, you will need to plan for more than 8 hours in bed as your “sleep opportunity” time frame will need to account for the time it takes for you to fall asleep.
Stress affects everyone differently, making it difficult to define. However, we do know that the mind can have a dramatic impact on how the body reacts. A staggering 77% of us experience physical complications caused by stress.
The American Psychological Association found that chronic stress causes an increased production of the hormone cortisol. This damages your body’s anti-inflammatory response and can lead to an increased risk of infections.
Find ways to de-stress and take yourself out of stressful situations. How you do this will vary depending on what works best for you.