Looking after your health by supporting your immune system
How you can support your body’s natural defence to stay healthy.
by Veronika Pongracz | 31st Mar 2020
Our immune system plays a huge part in our overall health and wellbeing. It is an intricate network of cells working together to identify, isolate and attack invading pathogens to help keep us healthy. When working well, the immune system is our frontline defence against viruses, bacteria, toxins and other harmful micro-organisms.
It is not uncommon for people to come down with flu or the common cold around the time when seasons change. However the temperature changes are not necessarily the direct cause of this. These shifts in temperature permit certain viruses, such as the rhinovirus and coronavirus, to flourish and could cause issues to those, whose immune system is not strong enough to fight them off. In this article we suggest some ways to support your immune system, helping you to stay healthy.
Get enough good quality sleep
Sleep is a naturally recurring state of the body and mind, vital to our survival. We know that it has a restorative and regenerative function, and we feel refreshed after we have slept well. During the night time hours our immune system continues to search and destroy any harmful elements, as well as being restored. Therefore, if sleep is cut short it can affect our immune system’s ability to heal. Creating a healthy bed time routine by minimising the amount of screen time, caffeine and other stimulants, and giving yourself time to unwind before going to bed can make a huge difference on the quality of your sleep. To learn some more useful tips on how to improve your sleep follow this link.
Research shows that moderate amount of stress has powerful benefits. It can help us overcome obstacles, increase our focus, boost our motivation and can aid our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. However, excessive amount of stress that stays around for weeks or longer weakens the immune system, and can lead to serious physical and mental health issues.
Luckily there are plenty of simple things you can do to ease the pressure and relieve stress:
- Implement meditation or breathing exercises into your daily routine. Research clearly shows that meditation and conscious breathing techniques can support your immune system. As little as ten to fifteen minutes a day can already make a big difference. At Inhabit you have the option to join one of our morning meditation classes to learn and practice different techniques, finding the one that works for you, or you can also practice solo, using our meditation pod or our in-room meditation channel. We have uploaded these pre-recorded meditations onto our website too, so you can continue your practice from your home.
- Prioritise the things that really matter in your life, and make time every day to do something that you love. Maybe it is something creative or just a heart-to-heart with a friend over the phone. Maybe it is dancing (even if it is only in your own living room) or watching a movie curled up on the sofa with your partner. Making time to switch off and doing the things you love will help you to re-connect with the present moment and nourish your soul.
- Put things into perspective and be selective with your media intake. There is a lot of misinformation out there – stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information. It is good to keep in mind that while stress can be caused by external circumstances, we can also generate quite a significant amount internally, when we perceive certain situations to be threatening and think that we might not able to cope with them. In reality these threats may or may not be true, but nevertheless we experience anxiety and difficult emotions around them as a result of our perceptions. When you find yourself catastrophizing certain events, stop, take a reality check, and intentionally change your inner monologue to a more supportive one. Be mindful and catch negative, self-defeating thoughts before they can take root.
If you would like to read more on what other simple but powerful tools are available to you to help managing stress and feel a bit lighter, have a look at this article.
Exercise and spend some time in nature
It is proven that moderate exercise have a beneficial effect on the immune system, which in turn could protect you against various infections. Physical activity stimulates the lymphatic system, a network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxin. Its main role is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body, allowing our immune system to function more effectively, keeping bacteria and viruses at bay.
Spending some time outdoors and getting some sunshine will provide you with some much needed vitamin D, which is a key player in maintaining a healthy immune system. If you found yourself stuck in your home and don’t have a garden or balcony, find the sunny side of your apartment, and enjoy the sun rays from your window.
There are plenty of online and streamed exercise classes that you can join, even from the comfort of your own home. If you fancy developing your own yoga practice check out this article.
In addition to supporting your immune system, both exercise and sunlight stimulates the production of various brain chemicals, such as endorphins, giving you more energy and a natural boost in your mood.
Healthy nutrition and enough water
Our bodies are naturally equipped with a complex and powerful immune system to fend off disease. However, our immune system and consequently our health can be compromised by certain lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol and consuming foods which are processed and/or high in sugar.
Healthy nutrition is essential to maintain a strong immune system, which may offer protection from cold and flu viruses and other health problems. Key nutrients and natural remedies can bolster defences to keep the immune system in peak form, and by supporting gut health, they also reduce the risk of intolerances to certain foods. But in the meantime, it is important to remember that no single “superfood”, a particular nutrient or a supplement alone can strengthen your immune system and fight off disease.
Erica Vtoraja, BSc (Hons) in Human Nutrition, nutritional consultant at Paar says: “The idea of boosting our immunity with a huge dose of vitamin C, lemon or garlic is attractive, but the ability to do so has proved elusive for several reasons. The immune system is a system, not a single entity. To function well, it requires consistent balance and harmony, which could only be attained by optimal lifestyle, including a combination of healthy nutrition as well as exercise, good sleeping habits and effective stress management. Instead of relying on supplements, a varied, whole food, unprocessed diet, mainly based on fruits and vegetables of many colours, healthy fats and lean or plant proteins should become the main focus.”
Ensuring your diet provides a variety of micronutrients helps to limit inflammation and optimize immunity. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), such as A,C, D and E, B group, beta carotene and minerals – including zinc, iron and selenium – play an essential role in the functioning of the immune system. Here is what Erica suggests in order to provide these vitamins and minerals for our bodies:
- While Vitamin C is one of the biggest immune boosters of all, a combination of vitamins A, C and E together will help to maintain the structure and function of the mucus cells lining our digestive and respiratory tract, acting as a barrier against pathogenic microorganisms. Make colourful (especially purple, blue, red, orange and yellow), preferably locally sourced and seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as lemons, bell peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli and berries your staple diet, and add some healthy fats high in vitamin E, such as nuts, seeds and avocado. “Eat the rainbow” and you would not need to take a these vitamins as supplements, unless specifically advised by your doctor.
- Vitamin D works with T cells, the body’s natural killer cells to fight off viruses and bacteria that cause infections, such as cold and flu and some other diseases. We can get vitamin D through exposure to sunlight and some foods, like oily fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, mackerel and trout) and some mushrooms. If you live in a country that gets less sun over the year it is advised to take a supplement from October to April to boost your vitamin D levels. Normally 800-1000 IU per day is sufficient, but check with your doctor if you need a different dose.
- Zinc, Copper and Iron are critical for the normal development and functioning of immune cells. The best food sources are seafood, nuts and seeds, beans, peas and lentils, and enriched whole grains.
- Selenium, a master antioxidant plays an important role in the health of our immune system by lowering the oxidative stress in the body, which reduces inflammation. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of Selenium. Just one or two pieces a day will provide the recommended daily intake of 55mcg.
- Healthy fats, such as Omega-3 that can be found in walnuts, chia, flaxseed, and oily fish, are also essential in reducing inflammation and have found to have immune-regulatory properties.
- Most of us heard about the importance of our gut health. Research shows that nearly 80% percent of our immune system is located in our digestive tract. Imbalances in our gut, which is home for a very large number of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiota, can lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune dysfunctions. Eating gut-friendly foods like fermented items such as sauerkraut (also high in vitamin C), kimchi and kefir, as well as lentils, pulses, oats, onion, garlic, asparagus and green bananas will support your gut and consequently your immune health.
Strengthening your immune system by incorporating all (or even some) of the above into your routine means that you will have a better natural armour against viruses, bacteria, toxins and other harmful elements. Try it for yourself and let us know how you get on!
Veronika is the head of our Wellbeing team at Inhabit. She is a certified yoga, meditation and mindfulness teacher, as well as sound therapist, offering a range of classes and workshops to individuals and groups.