Boosting Your Immune System Naturally Foods and Habits That Strengthen Your Defenses

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Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, your immune system works at its best when all components are working together. You can give it a boost by incorporating nutrient-rich foods into your diet and practicing well-studied healthy habits.

Leafy greens are rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants and other nutrients that support the immune system. Try them in salads and stews.

1. Eat a Healthy Diet

There’s no one superfood or supplement that can boost immunity, but a healthy diet is key. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which offer nutrients like Vitamin C and E that help support immune function.

Also add in protein-rich foods, like berries, nuts, hummus, fish, eggs and poultry. The amino acids in these foods help build and maintain immune cells, explains the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Exercise, too, helps to strengthen the body’s defenses. A moderate amount of aerobic activity, like brisk walking, can activate immune cells and increase the strength of cellular immunity, a 2019 study suggests. Just make sure to get your doctor’s okay before starting a new exercise program. And don’t overdo it; too much physical activity can actually decrease immune function.

2. Get Enough Sleep

There are lots of pills, drinks and super foods that claim to boost immune function. But the truth is that it’s hard to directly link any one of these with healthy immunity. The immune system is a complex and interconnected system, and what researchers know about it is still limited.

But there are some basic habits that can help, such as getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. Moderate, regular physical activity boosts levels of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies and also reduces stress hormones that can depress immunity.

Just be sure to avoid over-exercising, as that can have the opposite effect and suppress immunity. And try to cut down on the amount of processed and sugary foods you eat, as these can also weaken your defenses.

3. Exercise Regularly

Like a well-tuned orchestra, your immune system relies on a balance of lifelong habits to function optimally. Immune health expert and registered dietitian Julia Zumpano explains that “The innate immune system, our first line of defense, is composed of several essential white blood cells.”

These first-line cells help restrict access to the body by targeting bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. If these initial efforts fail, the acquired immune system will kick into gear, attacking invaders with targeted white blood cells that kill intruders and create antibodies to prevent future infections.

Exercise is a big part of this equation. Studies show that moderate-intensity workouts stimulate cellular immunity, so aim to get active daily. And make sure to rest in between sessions as well.

4. Take a Multivitamin

While there is much we still don’t know about the immune system, we do know that it is important to take a multivitamin. Vitamins and minerals are needed for the body to function properly, but many people may not be getting enough in their diet.

Taking the time to exercise regularly can also help strengthen your immunity. Research suggests that moderate-intensity exercise such as a brisk walk daily activates different types of immune cells and allows them to circulate more quickly, potentially detecting illnesses and attacking invading microbes before they can do much damage (2).

However, it is important not to overdo exercise. Exercising too hard and too long can actually suppress your immune system, putting you at greater risk of infection. For this reason, it is best to focus on moderate-intensity exercise for most people.

5. Drink Water

As we enter the heart of cold and flu season, it’s important to keep our immune systems working at full capacity. There are many ways to do this, and while supplements may play a role, incorporating well-studied healthy habits like getting enough sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet and exercising regularly can help.

A simple glass of water is a great immune system booster, especially when infused with lemon or other citrus fruit. Vitamin C boosts the immune system and improves circulation.

Zinc is a key nutrient for white blood cells, the intrepid immune system cells that seek out and destroy invading bacteria and viruses. Foods high in zinc include lean meat, oysters and pork. Vitamin E is another important nutrient for immune function. It’s found in a wide variety of foods, including avocado, dark leafy greens and nuts.

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