Aaaa, aaaa, aaaa-choo! That is the sound that you hear is the common cold or flu. Everyone has a heightened sense of fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the nature of COVID-19 pandemic, it is now a paramount importance to have a strong immune system to protect you.
The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. It fights off organisms called pathogens, which can come in the form of viruses (like the flu), bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Your immune system works hard to kick out these pathogens when they enter the body, as well as shorten the length of time you are sick, the Cleveland Clinic explains.
Your immune system knows how to rise up and fight disease on its own. However, consistent positive behaviors that lead to good health can also help. Here are five tips for maintaining a strong immune system all year long.
1. Eat a diet of nutrient-packed fresh fruits like oranges.
Fresh fruits and vegetables especially those containing vitamins A and C, are vital for your immune system and should be consumed on daily basis.
Vitamin C contains antioxidants, which are molecules that fight off other molecules (called free radicals) that damage cells in the body. While your body makes its own antioxidants, you can also get them from foods like fresh fruit. Vitamin C also helps make collagen which is part of the connective tissue in your immune system and other systems in your body, the Harvard School of Public Health explains.
Vitamin A’s job is to increase production of white blood cells, also called leukocytes. The American Cancer Society calls white blood cells “the main type of cell responsible for protecting the body against infections.” Preformed vitamin A is found in animal products and fortified foods, while certain plant foods contain carotenoids, which your body can convert into vitamin A.
Citrus is also good for your body in other ways. Beyond vitamin C, oranges also offer carotenoids, dietary fiber, folate, and other nutrients.
2. Eat a balanced diet.
Round out your diet with other nutritious choices. Good nutrition encourages the production of our immune cells, according to Harvard School of Public Health.
In addition to nutrient-dense fresh fruits and vegetables, a healthy eating pattern includes whole grains, a variety of proteins, and fat-free or low-fat dairy. Dietary guidelines can vary based on our specific health needs and it is best to speak with a professional for personalized recommendations. However, you can learn more about general nutrition guidelines from Health.gov.
3. Get sweaty.
Physical activity improves cardiovascular health, reduces stress, aids sleep, and has numerous other benefits. While exercise may not strengthen immune health directly, the benefits of working out support good health in general.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. But every little bit counts, so use every opportunity you can to get moving!
4. Relax and recharge.
Each of us experiences stress in our lives. However, consistent stress over a long period of time, also known as chronic stress, can harm both your mental and physical health.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, chronic stress can disturb the immune system, digestive system, and other processes that keep the body functioning. Therefore, taking time to relax and recharge is important for our overall health.
For some people, a recharge may come from physical activity, like doing yoga or taking a walk. Other people find hobbies more relaxing, such as reading or baking. Do whatever works best for you to “recharge your batteries,” and do it as often as you can.
Getting enough sleep is another behavior that may not strengthen immunity directly, but contributes overall to positive health. During sleep, the body regenerates our tissues and muscles; sleep also allows our muscles to relax. The National Institutes of Health notes that research shows a chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.
The amount of sleep we need changes throughout our lives and it varies person to person. Generally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults between age 18 and 60 sleep for 7 or more hours per night.
Set yourself up for a good night’s rest by avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, turning off your phone and computer screens, and turning in at the same time each night.
We can never avoid seasonal illness entirely. But we can help ensure our immune system is functioning properly by eating a nutritious diet as well as making other positive lifestyle choices.