Did you know? A well-balanced immune system can guard your body against chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.
Proactively maintaining your defenses with an arsenal of healthy lifestyle habits can help your immune system get the upper hand no matter what happens to be going around. From what you eat, to how you move, there are a number of practical steps you can take to achieve a healthy and balanced immune response.
Here are a few important habits that can help turn your body into a pathogen-fighting fortress, starting today.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Your immune system functions best when it’s well nourished. Studies show that a diet filled with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean protein, modest amounts of whole, fiber-rich grains, and healthy fats can help ward off both everyday ailments and more serious conditions.
Swapping out unhealthy food choices for more nutritious foods can enhance a sluggish immune system.
One of the best places to start is at your local grocery store produce section. Loaded with phytonutrients–including plant sterols and sterolins—fruits and vegetables are essential for immune health. Plant sterols and sterolins modulate immunity and balance inflammatory signals from the immune system by providing nutrients that feed your immune cells.
Healthy fats–especially cold-pressed organic plant oils–are another rich source of dietary phytosterols and are essential for both a healthy body and brain.
Another immune-boosting macronutrient that’s often overlooked is protein. Lean protein provides the amino acids your immune system needs to function properly. One convenient way to increase the amount of protein in your diet is by blending up a whey protein smoothie. Whey protein is high in lactoferrin–a protein in milk that regulates how bone marrow functions and enhances the body’s antibody response.
If you’re intolerant or allergic to milk, look for other protein powder sources like pea, rice, or egg.
A good sweat session can ramp up your immune response by increasing the number of immune cells in the body. This helps the body efficiently detect and eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses.
Exercise is so effective that researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found women participating in an aerobics class five days a week cut their odds of catching a cold in half. Another study found that those engaged in moderate exercise had a 20% lower risk of upper respiratory tract infection.
But when it comes to exercise and immunity, there can be too much of a good thing. It turns out that working out for more than 60 minutes per day at a high intensity can actually diminish immune function by excessively increasing adrenaline and cortisol levels. This can leave you more susceptible to illness and inflammation for up to 72 hours after your workout.
So how much exercise do you need for optimal immunity?30 to 60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise 3 to 5 times per week and 2 to 3 weekly resistance sessions can keep your immune system fit and ready for whatever comes its way.
Recent studies show that a little laughter can help reverse the immune-damaging effects of stress hormones. Better yet, researchers at Indiana State University in Terre Haute have found that a good belly laugh boosts NK cell activity and increases overall immune function. To get these benefits, try to spend 5 to 10 minutes each day looking for the funny side of life.
Incorporating relaxation into your daily life can help tame stress and strengthen your immunity.
One of the most effective ways is meditation. Meditation impacts the sympathetic nervous system and lowers plasma levels of both epinephrine and norepinephrine. Just be aware that meditation takes practice and patience, but its benefits are well worth the effort. If that is too challenging, simply practice deep breathing a few minutes each day. Both meditation and deep breathing can reset your stress thermostat.
Not getting enough shut-eye can alter your immune response and put you at greater risk of catching a cold or the flu.
People who are sleep deprived end up developing more allergies due to an increased release of histamine in the intestine and are more prone to chronic inflammation. What’s more, people who sleep less are actually more likely to become obese, develop diabetes, and die from all causes than well-rested individuals.
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical center in Dallas, jet lag, shift work, and even late nights staring at your tablet or smartphone may be tearing your immune system down and making you sick. That’s because your body’s internal clock is set for two 12-hour periods of light and darkness, and when this rhythm is thrown off, so is your immune system.
Most people don’t realize that the inability to fall asleep is often due to days that are filled with too much stimulus. When it’s time for bed, your brain may have difficulty shutting down. Theanine and holy basil are great options for quieting your mind during the course of a hectic day.
Another option is melatonin. Taken before bedtime, this natural hormone not only soothes you to sleep, but it’s also a powerful antioxidant that helps neutralize free radicals, enhances the response of T-helper cells, and regulates inflammation. Since your natural melatonin production slows as you age, a supplement might be just what’s needed for a good night’s sleep and a healthy immune system.
A well-balanced immune system is key to protecting your body from harmful viruses and bacteria. By incorporating a few healthy lifestyle habits, such as those outlined above, you can make sure your immune system is protected every day.