If you’re feeling good today, you should be thinking about your immune system.
A robust and properly functioning immune system helps you go about daily life as you come into contact with germs and bugs from pets, other people, and your environment. Without a healthy immune system, you could pick up infections and infectious diseases more easily, and the effects could be serious!
You’ve likely heard that having a strong immune system is key for staying healthy, but do you actually know how to build that immunity? It’s good to review the basics, especially right now as we all ride the wave of the coronavirus pandemic and worries about health take center stage.
We believe the key for strong immunity is to develop healthy habits and stick with them over time. To make it easy, we’ve identified four essential lifestyle categories that have huge impacts on your immunity — food, sleep, stress and attitude — and provided specific habits you can adopt to strengthen your immunity long-term.
But first, let’s sort out a definition so we’re on the same page. Your immune system is your body’s innate defense mechanism against sickness. It’s responsible for detecting and regulating your body’s response to germs such as bacteria and viruses. With such a busy job, your immune system is incredibly complex. It has to be strong enough to fight off a variety of illnesses and infections, but not so strong that it overreacts unnecessarily — causing allergies and other autoimmune disorders to develop. To operate in such a delicate balance, it’s important that your everyday lifestyle habits give your immune system what it needs.
Now, in no particular order, let’s get down to the basics for building strong immune systems:
1. Get your nutrients from food
Good nutrition helps keep your gut healthy, which helps your immune system work at an optimal level.
The gut, which researchers are now calling “the second brain” produces hormones and biological responses, which create the antibodies your immune system uses to detect anything foreign in your body. In other words, consistently eating well is like preparing your body for (germ) battle.
Want to eat your way to strong immunity? We recommend these foods to give your system a boost:
- Zinc and Selenium: nuts, seeds, tahini, beans, hummus, tofu, whole grains
- Vitamin D: salmon, mushrooms, tofu, fortified dairy or dairy substitutes (check the label)
- Vitamin A: carrots, mangos, papaya, sweet potato, cooked tomatoes
- Vitamin C: strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, oranges, bell peppers, parsley, kale
- Prebiotics/Probiotics: high-fiber foods such as vegetables, legumes, and whole grains; dairy substitutes with live cultures; and other fermented foods (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, natto, tempeh)
Try to include a couple of these nutrient sources at each meal. It’s about variety, consistently. For example, throw some parsley on top of your chicken dish or add sunflower seeds to your salad. Getting an enormous amount of these foods at once won’t necessarily increase immunity, but you can build it up over time by consistently sprinkling them into your meals throughout the week.
2.Get enough sleep
Like nutrition, sleep habits compound over time.
On the one hand, poor sleep quality and chronic sleep deprivation can have negative consequences on your immunity as it reduces your cellular immune responses, which could increase your susceptibility to disease. Some researchers are even finding that bad sleep habits may even impact the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. On the flip side, a good night’s sleep can help decrease stress, reduce negative effects on the immune system and improve exercise performance.
The recommendation is seven to eight hours of sleep per night. There are many ways to help you get those z’s and improve your sleep, including stretching beforehand and banning your cell phone from the bedroom. If and when a full night’s sleep is not possible, as a backup strategy take a 30-minute nap twice a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
3. Reduce your stress
The science is clear: when you are stressed, your body increases its cortisol response, which decreases your amount of white blood cells and lowers your ability to fight off infection.
What often stresses us out in our individual lives (jobs, relationships, personal circumstances, etc.) is being amplified right now with all the havoc around us from the pandemic. The news alone about the pandemic is enough to keep us completely stressed out!
Our recommendation is to create daily stress-reduction strategies and use them as if they were prescribed medicines. These include:
- Deep-breathing breaks
- And of course, Exercise
Getting back into a regular fitness routine in the gym is key. Be sure to adhere to physical distancing rules when you are exercising. Preserving space around you minimizes exposure to pathogens and can help slow the spread of the coronavirus in your community. However, community and commitment might be just what you need to strengthen your immune system…and your body and mind.
There are also many digital options for strength and cardio workouts available that allow for social distancing, like Les Mills OnDemand (LMOD), which offers on-demand streaming workouts from fitness experts. As a FITNESS PROJECT® member, you have access to LMOD at a very discounted rate. Ask us for details.
4. Develop your attitude
A positive mindset is vital for health and well-being.
Research shows that positive thoughts reduce stress and inflammation, which increases resilience to infection — while consistent negativity can make you more susceptible to the common cold and flu.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of news from 2020 is scary, so it’s easy to spiral down in negative thoughts.The story we tell ourselves is crucial. Change it from ‘It’s not going to be OK’ to ‘I am safe at home with the people I love.’ Start your day with a positive thought or even a mantra such as, ‘I am well!’ or ‘Today will be a good day!’
The common thread between all four categories is frequency and focus. If you only eat nutritious food, sleep well, manage your stress and work on your attitude when you’re sick, that won’t do much. It’s like going to the gym: working out really hard once in a while will not achieve the same results as consistent habits. If you do develop these habits daily however, you’re giving your body what it needs to build a strong immune system.
Doing so not only impacts your health, but the health of those around you — your loved ones, your neighbors and your community. So check in with yourself, be honest and see what habits you can create to take better care of yourself and build strong immunity.
If you’re not sure where to go from here, reach out to us! We’re here to help you get your healthy habits in check!
The key for your personal immunity is to develop habits and stick with them over time. What can we do to help our world right now? These suggestions might seem like they’re just for us. But keeping our immune systems strong is what we can do. And it’s not just for ourselves. It’s for the whole world.