Contrary to popular belief, science doesn’t necessarily support the idea that people can “BOOST” their immune system. However, evidence does suggest you can “SUPPORT” your immune system by following general “good-health” guidelines such as: getting enough sleep, eating healthy, being physically active, reducing stress, not smoking and if you drink alcohol do so in moderation.

When your body can work efficiently, your immune system can better protect you from invasive bacteria and viruses. While there is still a lot scientists don’t know about the link between lifestyle and the immune system, here are some simple actions to get you started.

Sleep

Sleep plays an important role in your health. While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, not getting enough quality sleep could negatively affect the ability to fight infections and diseases.

When you sleep, your body produces cytokines, a protein that targets infection and inflammation. Without enough quality sleep you can’t produce enough cytokines, leaving you more susceptible to illnesses. Here are the recommended hours of sleep for various ages:   

Age RangeRecommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn0-3 months old14-17 hours
Infant4-11 months old12-15 hours
Toddler1-2 years old11-14 hours
Preschool3-5 years old10-13 hours
School-age6-13 years old9-11 hours
Teen14-17 years old8-10 hours
Young Adult18-25 years old7-9 hours
Adult26-64 years old7-9 hours
Older Adult65 years and older7-8 hours

Reduce Stress

The stress response known as “fight or flight”, is the body’s way to prepare to confront or avoid danger – or in today’s world “challenges”. Some stress won’t significantly impact your health. However, when it becomes a constant due to situations such as a tension filled relationship, money worries or concerns with job performance, it can lead to a suppressed immune system and other health problems.

Try incorporating stress reducing practices into your day, such as meditating, mindfulness or controlled breathwork. A basic way to begin is to sit or lay quietly, bringing your full attention to your breath. Is it shallow, short, fast or slow? As you take a deep breath in through your nose, count to four, hold for a count of seven, and breathe out for a count of eight. Repeat 3-7 times until you feel relaxed.  

Not into meditating or controlled breathing? That’s ok too! Find a hobby or activity you enjoy and aim to practice it most days of the week. If you like to move around, try going for a walk or run. If you are crafty or handy try painting, drawing or cooking.

Well Rounded & Whole-Foods

To help the body function optimally and fight disease and infection, we need to consume a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).  In general, the best way to get vitamins and minerals is from eating whole-foods with a variety of colors. Think about including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean sources of protein, along with healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil into your diet.

Five micronutrients that directly support the immune system include vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. If you are concerned with not getting enough vitamins or minerals talk with your doctor prior to taking any kind of supplement. For a closer look into a colorful diet, check out our Eat the Rainbow post from October 2020 under the Archive side bar.

MicronutrientFood Sources
Vitamin B6Chicken, cereals, bananas, pork loin or potatoes with skin
Vitamin CTomatoes, citrus fruit, sweet peppers, broccoli or kiwi fruit
Vitamin ESunflower seeds and oil, almonds, safflower oil or peanut butter
MagnesiumWhole wheat, legumes, nuts or seeds
ZincOysters, beef shank, Alaskan King Crab or turkey (dark meat)

Exercise

Regular exercise is one of the most well-known pillars of healthy living, yet one of the least practiced by the average American. Exercise can help improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, control body weight, and protect against a variety of diseases. It may even contribute directly to the immune system by promoting good circulation, allowing cells and substances that directly affect the immune system to move through the body efficiently.

Adults
Aerobic Activity – Anything that gets your heart beating faster
At least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week
OR
75 minutes of vigorous activity
AND
Muscle Strengthening Activities – Activities that make your muscles work harder than usual
At least two days per week
Children
Ages 6 – 17 years old – At least 60 minutes per day of physical activity
– Moderate to vigorous physical activity (3 days per week)
– Muscle strengthening (3 days per week)
– Bone strengthening (3 days per week)
Children under age 6 – Younger kids love to be active naturally!
– Aim to keep them moving 3 hours a day – and more is better
– Limit time when they’re just sitting around (like screen time)

Are you ready to make a health change? Start by setting a SMART goal, something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and has a Timeline (click here for SMART goal worksheet).

Remember, no one is perfect. It can take a lot of repetition to form or adjust a habit. Stick with it, and if a day does not go as planned, DON’T GIVE UP! Try again.   

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Archive

References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/micronutrients-have-major-impact-on-health

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

https://health.gov/our-work/physical-activity/move-your-way-campaign