With the focus on our overall health during the global pandemic, immunity and our immune systems are in the spotlight now more than ever. However, forced lockdowns, the call to stay home and social distancing has resulted in many unhealthy habits coming to the fore. (TV binge-watching marathons and eating all our feelings spring to mind.)
While a good Netflix-and-chill evening coupled with a giant tub of ice-cream can make you feel better in the short-term, it’s not the best lifestyle to adopt in order to stay healthy in the long-term. And staying healthy and building a strong immune system is vital, now more than ever.
What exactly is an immune system?
The immune system, as the name implies is a system – an extremely complex one at that – made up of organs, chemicals, proteins and cells. To be specific white blood cells, antibodies, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and the bone marrow predominantly. This intricate network works together to fight infection and in order to function properly, requires balance and harmony. When something puts the system out of sync, that’s when the system breaks down and we get ill.
Even more impressively, the immune system keeps a record of every single germ it has ever fought so it can recognise it if it ever enters the body again, and destroy it quickly, before it makes you sick. Isn’t the body amazing?
So not only does the WHO stress the importance of self-care to promote physical health, but the need to focus on mental health, and to prevent disease too.
With all the uncertainty and anxiety during these current times, stress levels are high and energy levels are low, which not only has a negative effect on the mood, but it weakens the immune system, leaving us less able to fight viral infections.
Why is it important to have good immune system
The immune system is your body’s first line of defence against bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus. A strong immune system will assist the body in preventing these invaders from entering the body, and if they do gain illegal entry, will assist in the fight and recovery from disease and infections they might cause. With the global pandemic affecting people across the globe, together with the usual suspects of colds, flu and other illnesses and diseases becoming more prevalent in the winter, it’s important to keep your immune system at its peak to help prevent you falling ill, or to assist in your recovery if you do.
Tips on how to boost your immune system:
In a nutshell, keeping your immune system strong, healthy and in balance requires a combination of lifestyle changes, some easier to manage than others.
- Eat healthily
Not only can good nutrition prevent the likelihood of developing other health concerns, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for supporting a good immune system.
Some tips include:
- Eat a variety of food every day, including wholegrains, proteins, fruits and vegetables.
- Eat the rainbow, meaning choose fruits and vegetables comprising all the different colours. Each ‘colour’ has different health benefits.
- Drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated is crucial for optimal health and functioning of the immune system.
- Ditch the salt. When cooking, use salt sparingly and don’t add extra salt to your plate.
- Cut back on fats and oils. Avoid frying, rather steam or boil your food instead, choose low-fat dairy options and opt for white meat instead of red, fatty meats.
- Limit sugar. Beware the fizzy drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices which contain a LOT of sugar. Keep sugary foods such as cakes, sweets and chocolates to a minimum.
- Get enough sleep
You might be surprised to learn that sleep is more important for your immunity than you realise. Getting enough sleep will not only give your body the energy it needs and your mind the chance to rest, but it reboots the immune system too. Experts recommend getting between 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night for optimal rest and recovery.
- Reduce stress
Stress can negatively impact the immune system. Stress causes your body to release the hormone, cortisol which can cause inflammation, and inflammation can affect how the immune system responds to infection. Over time, this inflammation can cause imbalances in the functioning of the immune cells which can weaken the immune system. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to stress on the immune system. Click here for a number of ways you can attempt to reduce stress. (link to previous blog)
- Exercise regularly
The health benefits of exercise have been well documented, but did you know not exercising enough can actually reduce your immune response? Studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles can lead to an impaired immune system. Exercise is associated with general health and well-being, all of which promotes a strong immune system. And the good news is, even just raising your heartrate for 20 minutes three times a week has been shown to help strengthen the immune system. In fact, too much strenuous activity can actually temporarily suppress the immune system which can lead to infection.
- Quit smoking
Cutting out tobacco will increase your white cell count, improve circulation, increase oxygen levels, and lower inflammation – all of which will give your immune system a boost.
- Look after your mental health
Studies have shown that there is a close link between mental health and the immune system. We’ve already mentioned how stress leads to a weaker immune system, but research has also shown that good mental health increases resilience to infection.
- Take a supplement
A good supplement can provide extra support for the immune system. Choose one with vitamins D, A B12, C and zinc, as each of plays an important and unique role in supporting the immune system. Try Advance Health Immune Triple Action 3-in-1 Tablets, which has been formulated for optimal immune function.
The elderly and the immune system
People who are older or have comorbidities have a weaker immune system. As you age, the immune system becomes slower to respond, leaving the elderly more susceptible to illness. Once this ‘age’ was set at around 60 that your immune system used to deteriorate, but recent studies have shown this ‘immunity age’ is starting far younger, with factors such as smoking, obesity and leading a sedentary lifestyle being some of the risk factors. The good news is it’s never too late to turn back the immunity age clock. Implementing all of the tips above will go a long way to reversing your immunity age.
So, in summary, following a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough good quality sleep, engaging in regular physical activity, curbing stress and keeping a positive mindset are some of the most important ways to help keep your immune system strong and healthy and reduce your chances of infection and disease.
Final caveat – While a strong immune system will go a long way to safeguard you from certain illnesses and disease, the novel coronavirus (and all its variants) can attack even the healthiest of bodies so it’s vital to wear masks, practice good hygiene and continue to social distance to prevent contracting COVID-19 and to curb the spread of the disease.