When you’re feeling tired, cold, or low energy, it could be a sign your immune system is fighting off a bug or infection. Your immune system is your natural line of defense against viruses and bacteria. But sometimes your immune system gets tired and needs a little TLC. With my list of 10 ways to naturally boost your immune system, you can give your body that extra care it needs.
We previously discussed foods that help build the immune system (click here to read Food that Boost the Immune System), today we focus on lifestyle practices that help bolster us.
What We’re Born With
Boosting your immunity is a trending topic among health and wellness professionals. Research indicates positive changes in your lifestyle or diet can possibly affect your immunity. We know that living a healthy lifestyle, consisting of a clean diet, regular exercise, and lower exposure to toxins, helps keep us living better longer.
What many don’t know about are the factors outside of our control that affect our complex immune systems. Age, genetics, and gender, in particular, play a role in determining our natural levels of immunity.
Newborn babies and the elderly have weaker immune systems than others.
Due to your genetics, you may be born with a primary immune deficiency or at risk of developing an immune disorder.
Men and women have differences in their immune systems. Women tend to be better at fighting off diseases than men. That's due in part to their microRNAs' genetic material that is thought to have the ability to increase immunity and assist in preventing cancers. Also, estrogen in women is an immune-enhancing hormone, while testosterone in men is generally classified as an immunosuppressive hormone.
What We Can Do
While age, genetics, and gender affect our immune systems, they're not the whole story. If we can keep our body healthy and functioning optimally, it will help our immune system work at its best and do its job.
In fact, there are steps we can take to optimize our immunity further, and they don’t involve medication. Here are several ways you can do so naturally.
#1 – Avoid Smoking
Puffing on cigarettes is not cool anymore.
Scientists have discovered that the long-term effects of smoking have a detrimental impact on our overall health. Research shows a direct correlation between illness and cigarettes due to the many carcinogenic chemicals used to make them. When these toxic ingredients get inhaled into your body, they break down your cells' ability to replenish, fight, and protect you from infections and illnesses.
If your cells aren’t able to send out signals to fight unwanted bacteria or viruses, your immune system becomes compromised. And if you smoke regularly, your body is inundated with these chemicals, which weakens your immune system and leaves you more susceptible to sickness.
TIP: If possible, quit smoking to improve your oral and respiratory health.
# 2 – Catch Some Rays
Vitamin D is important for your overall health for several reasons. A primary one being its function in regulating the absorption of essential minerals, particularly phosphorus and calcium. Phosphorus assists in maintaining and growing your cells, which keeps your immune fighting function operating at its highest level. Calcium helps blood vessels deliver immune responses via the bloodstream when needed.
TIP: The best way to get vitamin D is to spend time outside in the sun. If it’s winter where you live or sunlight is limited during the day, an alternative is to take a vitamin D supplement
#3 – Breathe
Controlling your breath is one of the best things you can do for your immunity. Our breathing is not only associated with our respiratory system but also something called our parasympathetic system. This system is responsible for relaxation, so when you activate it, it turns off the sympathetic nervous system. That's our fight or flight system, which is responsible for the elevation of our stress hormone, cortisol.
Within the parasympathetic system, there is a nerve you must activate called the Vagus Nerve. This nerve controls how messages are delivered to different parts of our body. When we are stressed and not engaging our Vagus Nerve, our body can feel out of balance.
TIP: To activate it, take slow, deep, and controlled breaths. You can incorporate these breathing techniques into your daily meditation ritual or can practice them separately.
#4 – Meditate
Say, “Om.” Seriously though, meditation is a fantastic form of mental exercise and relaxation. It helps ground you and puts purpose into your thoughts and intentions. But how does it affect your immune system?
Practicing mindfulness increases your body’s ability to process your emotions, letting go of the stressors and calming your brain and body by reducing cortisol. When cortisol levels are elevated, they can block your immune system from operating correctly – think of stress as a big wall blocking everything in its path.
TIP: If you can, practice a meditation session first thing in the morning. It can help you set your intentions for the day and leave you feeling uplifted. And, remember, it doesn’t have to take an hour. Five to ten minutes of meditation still counts!
#5 – Exercise Regularly
Lace-up your running shoes, pump some iron, or roll out your yoga mat! Regular exercise is excellent for your cardiovascular health. It gets your blood flowing, increases your happiness hormones, fires up your metabolism, and aids in digestion.
Exercise makes your body feel good (even if you don’t like it in the moment) because it lowers your cortisol levels. When cortisol levels are high, it can reduce the essential antibody IgA. We need that to protect our mucous membranes, like the ones find in our respiratory tract and digestive system.
TIP: If you’re feeling really under the weather, it may be best not to overdo it. Going too hard when your body is trying to fight something off may only stress your body out further.
#6 – Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being underweight or overweight can put a strain on your body’s system, such as your cardiovascular system. It can also increase your risk for diseases and cancer and can affect immune function.
TIP: One of the best ways to maintain a healthy weight is to eat a balanced diet and follow a regular exercise regime.
#7 – Eat a Balanced Diet
Get in your fresh fruit and veggies! Eating a diet rich in fresh produce, healthy fats, and complete proteins can help you get needed vitamins and minerals for good health. Some vitamins and minerals that boost immunity are vitamin A, C, zinc, selenium, and folate, to name a few.
TIP: Did you know the yellow bell pepper is rich in vitamin C? It is a powerhouse for boosting your immunity and fighting off free radicals. Add it to salads or have it as a snack with some organic hummus.
#8 – Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a stressor for the body. Excessive alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on your body’s ability to function normally. It can significantly impact the functionality of your liver and kidneys, which are responsible for ridding your body of toxins.
When the body is overloaded with toxins, cortisol levels rise, and your liver and kidneys become stained and damaged. If these organs are consistently presented with toxins, it can suppress their ability to protect your body against bacteria and viruses. Ultimately this leads to reduced immune response and function.
TIP: Seltzer water with a dash of lime or fruit juice are great alternatives at social gatherings.
#9 – Get Enough Z’s
Getting high-quality sleep is incredibly important for both your mental and physical wellbeing. While we sleep, our body is hard at work replenishing our cells for the next day. When we don’t get enough sleep, our mood and our brain’s ability to function can be impacted, which can compromise our immune system.
During our sleep cycle, the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) state is where the magic happens. Our bodies go into recovery mode and produce cytokines, a protein that bolsters and protects our immune function. And, when we are fighting off an illness, we need an increase of cytokines to help us beat the infection. When we are sleep deprived, the body cannot produce enough cytokines leaving our immune system weaker and more susceptible to illness.
TIP: Light can affect our quality of sleep. An eye mask or blackout curtains may help you sleep better.
#10 – Minimize Stress
Being stressed doesn’t feel good emotionally or physically. When you are stressed, your body produces cortisol. While producing cortisol is necessary, having consistently elevated levels of cortisol can reduce your body's ability to fight infections. Why? Because it decreases your T-cells’ ability to identify and produce alert signals for immune defense.
TIP: A great way to de-stress is to practice yoga or meditation!
For more ideas on minimizing stress, make sure to read:
Give Them A Try
There you have it, ten ways you can begin boosting your immune system naturally. You don’t have to do them all at once. Give one or two a try and see if you feel an improvement. Then gradually try others until you find the best ones for you and your body.
What do you currently do to help give your immune system a lift? If you have any tried and true methods, share them in the comments. My readers and I would love to know!