Your immune system is an intricate, integrative system of organs, white blood cells and proteins that are charged with protecting the body from foreign substances such as bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. The immune system is constantly scanning the body for invaders and working to eradicate them.
For your immune system to be healthy and resilient there needs to be balance and harmony within which is directly affected by lifestyle choices. Cultivating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best approach for keeping your immune function stable and responsive.
(1) Eating a Mediterranean plant-based diet is essential for keeping your immune system strong and resilient. Many nutrients found in fruits, vegetables, nuts + seeds, whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help the body to fight off infection. Additionally, the amino acids found in lean protein help build and maintain immune cells. Not to mention the antioxidants, phytonutrients, essential vitamins and minerals found in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
(2) Having a regular exercise program reduces inflammation in the body which gives your immune system a boost. Aim for at least 30-minutes of physical activity a day. A regular exercise program also promotes healthy weight, restorative sleep, reduced stress and anxiety and better mood. The key is consistency.
(3) Prioritize your sleep by consistently getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Quality sleep enables your body to heal and regenerate which helps the immune system. Conversely, not getting enough sleep results in elevated cortisol (a key stress hormone that naturally lowers during sleep) which negatively impacts immune function.
(4) Keep stress levels low. Learning effective ways to manage stress will support a healthy immune response. Keep stress levels low to ensure the proper cortisol balance in the body. Chronically high levels of cortisol impair a proper immune response which makes you more susceptible to viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens.
(5) Prioritizing healthy relationships has a positive effect on your immune system. When you are well supported and able to give and receive affection, the body releases its feel-good endorphins. It also promotes feeling of joy and happiness. In fact, studies show, the more social we are the less likely we are to suffer from upper respiratory infections. Having a diverse group of social connectivity (work, other parents, hobbies, clubs, etc) has the most positive impact on your immune function.
(6) Disengage from unhealthy, immune sabotaging behaviors such as smoking and excessive drinking. Tobacco products and alcohol are immune suppressants. The science is clear. If you smoke, quit. If you drink, limit alcoholic beverages to 1 per week or ideally none at all.
(7) Get out in nature. The outdoors is incredibly therapeutic. It’s very grounding and it naturally reduces the body’s fight/flight/freeze response to stress which allows the immune system to rest and recharge. When it is sunny outside there is the added benefit of Vitamin D which is a critical hormone for proper immune function. If you live in a cloudy climate where you don’t get a lot of sun exposure (30 minutes a day) consider taking a vitamin D supplement. Most people need to take between 1,000 and 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily to achieve optimal levels of Vitamin D.
(8) Take care of your gut. Having a healthy gut microbiome supports your immune system by creating a healthy environment for beneficial bacteria to flourish and for essential nutrients to absorb into your system. A healthy microbiome also keeps systemic inflammation low which also supports a strong, responsive immune system.
A healthy, balanced, resilient immune system is the best defense against getting plagued by a virus or bacterial infection. There are simple daily things you can do each day to best protect yourself all year round. The key is consistency and commitment. Consider choosing 1 or 2 action steps to start.
Be careful not to overwhelm yourself by tackling all 8 suggestions at once. Once the first 1-2 action steps become habitual, add in 2 more. Slowly build to all 8. Slow and steady change is more sustainable than quick fixes which often lead to frustration. Success is much more likely if you start small.
Prioritize your health and wellness by creating a balanced lifestyle that supports your immune system. You deserve to feel your best.
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Ashley Logan is a Certified Integrative Health Coach, writer and workshop facilitator who helps women create actionable strategies that support physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness for optimal health.
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