Building up your immune system is about much more than just keeping the cold and flu away. A strong immune system also means taking fewer sick days at work, keeping your fitness goals within arm’s reach, and even adding years to your lifespan. But, it’s best if done naturally.
There are natural ways to boost your immune system. Get more antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and D while cutting sugar, salt, and fat. Strive for 150 minutes of exercise a week, 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and 64+ ounces of water a day. Avoid nicotine and alcohol and work on stress relief.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to fighting off diseases and keeping your immune system healthy. So, let’s talk about 7 of the best ways to naturally boost your immune system to build resilience.
1. Get 150 Minutes of Exercise Per Week
Getting 150 minutes of exercise per week is recommended by the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This recommendation is usually set with heart health in mind. But, it also provides benefits to just about every system within the body – including the immune system.
Yet, exercise wasn’t always seen as “good” for the immune system.
In fact, several studies published in the 1980s and the 1990s suggested otherwise. Researchers once thought that intensive exercise like strength training and marathon running actually impaired the functioning of the immune system.
The belief was that these activities made athletes more susceptible to illness and infection.
While there might be some evidence proving that extremely intense exercise can hurt the immune system, regular exercise usually causes positive effects.
Today, exercise is known to reduce inflammation within the body. In turn, there’s a much lower risk of developing infections and viruses.
2. Load Up on Vitamins A, C, and D
If you’ve been paying attention to health news in recent years, you’ve probably noticed the buzz around “antioxidants.”
As you get older, eat an unhealthy diet, or simply live in a polluted environment, the cells in your body become exposed to something called “free radicals.”
Little by little, these free radicals destroy the cells in your body – which can make you more likely to develop cancer and experience greater effects of aging.
Antioxidants are meant to fight off these free radicals.
The best way to boost the antioxidants within your body is by eating a healthy diet with foods loaded with antioxidants. You can also use supplements or vitamins if you struggle to eat a healthy and balanced diet.
Here are three key vitamins that also double as antioxidants and the additional benefits that they provide to your health.
- Vitamin A: This vitamin is known for its positive effects on vision and skin health. There’s a decent amount of evidence that shows it can reduce the risk of degenerative eye disorders like Age-Related Macular Degeneration as well as acne on the skin. Vitamin A can be found in foods like eggs, carrots, and spinach.
- Vitamin C: Most people know that vitamin C is important to immune health, but it’s also able to improve joint health as well as the strength of your bones. On top of that, it speeds up the healing process of wounds and infections. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, green vegetables, and tomatoes.
- Vitamin D: This is the vitamin that people associate with coming from the sun. It’s recognized for helping to build bone strength and density. In the process, it can help to prevent conditions like osteoporosis. Vitamin D is found in fish, eggs, and dairy foods.
Vitamins A, C, and D aren’t the only antioxidants that you can increase in your diet.
Vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and manganese are a few other examples of antioxidants.
3. Drink More Than 64 Ounces of Water Per Day
At the bare minimum to maintain your health, you should be drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day. Other studies have noted that men should be drinking more than 101 ounces per day while women require just 71 ounces.
Either way, hydration is key when it comes to keeping a strong immune system.
Yet, it’s not what’s actually in water that helps to improve your immune system.
In actuality, the purpose of the water is to flush any harmful toxins out of your body through urination. The fewer toxins lingering in your urinary tract, the lower the risk of infection.
The problem is – it’s not uncommon to struggle with drinking enough water every day.
Here are some ways that you can improve your water intake.
- Set timers on your phone to remind you to drink throughout the day.
- Replace sugary and fatty beverages with water during meals.
- Always keep a water bottle handy.
- Work on slowly working your way up to at least 64 ounces a day.
Just remember that you don’t want to drink too much water per day where you start flushing too much sodium out of your system.
This can cause a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia.
4. Get At Least 7 to 8 Hours of a Sleep Each Night
Getting enough sleep is exactly what you need to feel well-rested when your alarm goes off in the morning. It’s also a great way to guarantee a healthy body weight and a more well-controlled appetite.
The recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night can actually help your immune system as well. In fact, quite a few studies in recent years have focused on this exact topic.
Here’s what we know now about the link between sleep and immunity.
- Lack of sleep can put you at risk for conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity – which can actually weaken your immune system.
- Not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to develop cancer.
- Getting enough sleep per night can help to reduce inflammation within the body.
While there’s evidence that sleep can help your immune system, this information doesn’t exactly help if you struggle to fall or stay asleep at night.
You might need to take additional steps to help.
These include exercising during the day, setting an appropriate temperature and darkness in your bedroom at night, and avoiding caffeine too close to bedtime.
5. Practice Stress Relief and Coping Strategies
All types of stress impact your emotional and psychological health. But, did you know that stress can actually impair your immune system and make you more likely to come down with an illness?
The thing is – that’s actually true.
When you experience stress, your body naturally releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. With extended periods of chronic stress, the excess of these hormones can actually cause inflammation within the body.
At the same time, your body is less capable of fighting off infections.
That’s why you might notice that you come down with a cold or flu or just feel under the weather after a particularly stressful event.
That also means it’s in your best interest to either keep stress levels low or figure out coping strategies that work for you.
Your healthy coping strategies can be anything that doesn’t harm your body, including exercise, meditation, limiting stress in your life, etc.
6. Avoid Harmful Substances Like Nicotine and Alcohol
You know that alcohol can be harmful to your entire body, especially your liver. You also probably know smoking cigarettes with nicotine can damage your lungs and the rest of your respiratory system.
Both alcohol and nicotine can endanger your immune system.
Let’s talk about alcohol first.
Alcohol is known to damage plenty of organs within your body.
Along with organs, alcohol can also kill off some vital cells within the immune system – including T-cells. As you might know, T-cells are white blood cells that help to fight off bacteria and infections.
Yet, alcohol is also linked to the development of several diseases and conditions.
That includes pneumonia, pulmonary diseases, and even tuberculosis. So, not only are you hurting important organs like the liver, but you’re also making yourself more likely to develop serious health conditions.
Then, there’s nicotine.
The major concern with nicotine is the boost in cortisol – this is the hormone we just mentioned in the stress section.
Not only does nicotine increase cortisol and impair the functioning of the immune system, but it also slows down response time, in general.
Your body’s ability to fight off infections is practically non-existent if you’re a frequent user of either alcohol or nicotine.
Attempt to reduce your intake or stop altogether to return your immune system to healthy functioning.
7. Limit Sugar, Fat, and Sodium in Your Diet
Just as you want to fuel your diet with balanced nutrients, you also want to limit your intake of certain micronutrients and macronutrients.
In particular, this includes sugar, fat, and sodium. A diet high in each of these is known to lower immune system functioning.
If you’ve ever had a discussion with your doctor about a healthy diet, you’ve probably discussed sodium at length. That’s because high sodium intake can cause conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and obesity.
As of recently, there seems to be evidence that too much salt in your diet might actually make you more likely to develop infections. It weakens the ability of your immune system to fight off diseases.
Fat is more of a touchy subject.
Too much fat obviously puts you at risk for severe diseases and conditions like obesity and cancer. At the same time, there’s a misconception that a no-fat diet is healthy and a good way to lose weight – it’s not.
The same goes for sugar.
Try to stay within the guidelines for salt, sugar, and fat intake. Way too much of each of these will impair your immune system.
There’s no magic fix for a healthy immune system. Yet, there is a bit that you can do in order to bolster a healthy immune system and lower your risk of getting sick.
Focus on getting a healthy diet, getting enough sleep per night, staying hydrated, keeping stress levels low, and getting enough exercise.
Most importantly, visit your doctor at least once a year to be sure that you’re on the right track.
If you’re interested, here’s a look at how the immune system works to help you better understand these steps.