Learn what you can do to improve your immune function and decrease your risk of disease

Keeping our immune system strong is so important for our survival. After all, it is the body’s powerful first line of defense against disease and infection. When it works well, we don’t even realize it’s there.  But when it doesn’t, we are painfully aware. So what can we do to keep these invaluable defenses running well? It turns out, a lot. Our immune function is not entirely in our control, but there are many good choices we can make to up our chances for a strong immunity.

How Does the Immune System Work?

A healthy immune system scans for signs of danger and works around the clock to fight and remove disease-causing germs like viruses and bacteria, recognize and deactivate damaging environmental substances, and fight changes in the body that cause disease, such as the growth of cancer cells. When proteins on the surfaces of viruses and bacteria called antigens attach to immune cells, elaborate defensive processes are triggered. Special immune cells called phagocytes fight new foreign substances that enter the body, file their information away, and make antibodies to fight them off again if they return.

Eat the Right Foods

Healthy immunity starts with nutrition. Our bodies rely on essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, B12, C, D, and zinc, iron, selenium, and magnesium, to help keep the immune system running smoothly. These micronutrients help to maintain the physical barriers against invaders and keep the production of antimicrobial proteins that fight off viruses and bacteria going. They also help the immune system promote recovery from inflammation. Inflammation is harmful because over time, it can damage tissues, organs, and healthy cells, leading to serious disease.

Keep on Moving

Research shows that exercise influences the immune system in a big way. Moving your body stimulates the exchange of white blood cells between the body’s circulation system and its tissues. It also reduces inflammation while improving glucose levels and metabolic health. Note that when it comes to exercise, moderation is key. It’s important to ease into an exercise routine when first getting started. Rigorous, prolonged exercise is actually linked with an increased risk of illness, inflammation, and muscle injury. Athletes training intensely for competitive events should follow careful precautions to lower these risks. How do you know when your movement is too intense? Take the “talk test.” If you can talk during your activity, the pace of your movement is just right. If you are unable to speak more than a few words without stopping for breath, it’s time to slow down.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Ever feel ill and suddenly remember you haven’t been sleeping well lately? Science explains why this could happen. Your circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep/wake cycle, describes the physical and behavioral changes that happen in the body during a 24-hour period. This inner clock has a major influence on immunity, because when you sleep, your immune system releases valuable germ-fighting proteins called cytokines to help ward off infection. When you’re deprived of sleep, these levels of proteins decrease, making you more susceptible to illness.

Tame Your Stress

The idea of the “mind-body connection” is getting a lot of buzz these days. We are learning more and more that a state of mind can have a big influence on one’s health. Stress has a direct influence on our immune system, but not all stress is created equal. While short-term stress is shown to enhance the immune system by activating the fight-or-flight response, long-term stress does the opposite. The hormones released by chronic stress, which can last weeks or months, suppress the immune response by shifting the cytokine balance, causing inflammation.

Steps For Improving Your Immunity

Þ   Evaluate your diet. Make sure half of your plate consists of fruits and vegetables. It is ideal to ingest your nutrients by eating a variety of healthy foods, but doing so isn’t always easy. Take a daily multivitamin to cover any nutritional gaps.

Þ    Incorporate exercise into your life. Walk briskly or jog daily for immunity strength; up to an hour is all you need.

Þ   Prioritize your sleep. Cut down on daytime caffeine, make sure your bedroom is cool and bed is comfortable, stick to a consistent sleep schedule, and aim for seven to nine hours per night.

Þ   Reduce your stress. Adopt relaxation techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation which are proven stress-busters. Also, practice gratitude. Research shows that counting your blessings every day not only makes you happier but boosts your immune system too.