Flu season is here, and combined with the uncertainties of how the coronavirus will respond to colder weather, people are thinking about their immune system more than ever. Having a healthy, balanced diet does have a positive impact on the immune system. Those flashy immune-boosting supplement ads may catch your attention, but don’t believe the hype. Here are real, tried-and-true ways to help your immune system function at its best.
Reduce your stress
We know that high amounts of stress can make the body not work at its best. The immune system also has a negative reaction to stress. Too much stress puts more pressure on the body’s immune response because it’s constantly in “flight or fight” mode, so there’s less energy being put toward fighting off invaders.
According to a two decade long study at Carnegie Mellon University, people with higher levels of stress were more likely to catch a cold than those with low stress levels. This was because the body reacts to stress with inflammation inside the body, which makes the symptoms of a cold worse. So, the biggest takeaway here is to make sure you practice a stress-reducing routine often. Try meditating, stretch during lunch or even just spending time alone away from all of your daily stressors to reduce inflammation in your body.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is another one of the most important keys to overall health. It can also be difficult to get enough when our minds are busy processing everything that has happened throughout the day. But sleep is your body’s chance to reset: including when it can fight off invaders such as cold viruses. Your body produces cytokines, or a type of protein that reduces inflammation in the body (see a pattern?), while you sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body can’t produce enough cytokines, which increases inflammation and your chance of catching a cold.
Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep a night to support immune health. Can’t seem to fall asleep fast enough to catch seven or more hours of Z’s? Create a bedtime routine that you follow each night. Having a consistent bedtime routine will prepare your mind for sleep, and help you fall asleep faster.
Stick to a healthy, balanced diet
You get out what you put in. If you stick to a balanced diet that properly fuels your body, your body will thank you by staying healthy. Create a plan that follows the MyPlate guidelines. Ensure that half of your plate includes fresh veggies, eat whole foods over processed, switch to low-fat dairy, vary where you get your protein and consume less added sodium, saturated fat and sugar.
I’m sure you’re thinking: what about vitamin C? Although vitamin C supplements could have a positive impact on your immune system, supplements often have way more vitamin C than your body can process, so your body gets rid of the rest. It’s best to get vitamin C from natural sources, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. We know that starting a new, healthier lifestyle can be tough. That’s why we offer free nutrition classes to qualified participants to help you get on track.
Every person’s immune system is unique and responds to outside factors like stress differently. One of the best ways to help your body defend itself against the flu is to get your flu vaccine before the season really kicks off. Frequent hand washing, social distancing and avoiding crowded spaces are also great ways to prevent illness.
Be sure to first consult with your doctor before starting any new diet or exercise routine to make sure it’s right for you. Of course, there’s no absolute way to avoid getting sick. But it never hurts to lower your stress levels, get enough sleep and follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.