Our immune system is one big puzzle, each piece working with the others to create a strong immune defence to keep invaders out. Support the four pillars of immune health—nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and sleep—to boost
your immune system.
Nutritional imbalances have been linked to decreased immunity and increased risk of illness. To help the body identify, break down and dispose of invading bugs, our immune system relies on a diverse collection of nutrients. Macronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates and fat help our system build antibodies, which function to identify and remove viruses and bacteria. To perform to its fullest, the immune system also requires micronutrients like folic acid, vitamins A, C, E, B6 and minerals including copper, zinc, selenium and iron.
It’s best to get your nutrients from a rounded diet of whole foods, but lifestyle and dieting habits can often result in nutritional imbalances. Consider adjusting your supplement routine during cold and flu season to fill in any nutritional gaps you may have and give your immune system the support it needs to keep you going.
Although it may not always be a good idea to work out while you’re sick, exercise can go a long way in helping you avoid illness in the first place. Exercise protects your immune system by flushing out bacteria in your lungs and airways, improving circulation and causing mild fluctuations in body temperature to fight infection. A daily brisk walk can cut your number of sick days by more than half!
Just 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise per day can improve your body’s immune response, but modern life means it can be difficult to find time for even this moderate amount of activity.
Stress can have a number of negative impacts on the immune system. Mild stress caused by brief pressures like important exams or tight deadlines at work can suppress the immune system’s ability to break down invading pathogens. Being stressed can also increase the cortisol levels in your system, which makes you more susceptible to becoming sick and more likely to make others sick.
Being more mindful can actually help to minimize the occurrence, length and severity of the flu or common cold. It reduces inflammation markers and stress hormones and has been shown to improve activity in the areas of the brain responsible for coordinating the immune system. Make it a daily habit.
Consider complementing your mindful routine with a few natural health products.
- Valerian can be used as a herbal tea or supplement for its sedative and anxiety-reducing effects.
- Fish oil supplementation has been shown to reduce stress symptoms.
- Probiotics aid the microbial content of the gut, which plays a key role in immune development.
Your body responds to lack of sleep in a similar way to how it does acute stress. In fact, our immune system may be correlated with our sleep patterns, and sleep deprivation can impact the activity of our immune cells, making it difficult for your body to identify and fight cold and flu bugs.
Prioritizing quality sleep can be difficult, but plays a critical role in enhancing your immune defences. Consider the following natural remedies to help improve your sleep:
• Vitamin D can help to promote longer, healthy sleep durations.
• Magnesium has been shown to calm the nervous system, induce relaxation, reduce blood pressure and even increase energy during the day.
• L-theanine promotes relaxation and better sleep by reducing anxiety.
• Melatonin is known for increasing total sleep time and reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.
You might also enjoy this article on how to reduce worry.
Author: Michelle W. Book is the in-house holistic nutritionist and spokesperson for Healthier by Nature an online community educating Canadians about the benefits of natural health and organic products. She also contributes to Optimyz and Silver Magazines regularly.