If you want to boost your immune health, you may wonder how to help your body fight off illnesses.
While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely tied.
In fact, inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness.
In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night.
Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness.
Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle.
Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly .
2. Engage in moderate exercise
Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost.
Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems.
What’s more, regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly.
Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
3. Stay hydrated
Hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.
Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness.
To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Water is recommended because it’s free of calories, additives, and sugar.
While tea and juice are also hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar contents.
As a general guideline, you should drink when you’re thirsty and stop when you’re no longer thirsty. You may need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or live in a hot climate.
It’s important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately. Older adults need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
4. Manage your stress levels
Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health.
Long-term stress promotes inflammation, as well as imbalances in immune cell function.
In particular, prolonged psychological stress can suppress the immune response in children.
Activities that may help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. You may also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, whether virtually or in person.
The bottom line
You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes today to strengthen your immune system.
These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing your stress levels.
Although none of these suggestions can prevent COVID-19, they may reinforce your body’s defenses against harmful pathogens.