You have the power to keep your immune response firing on all cylinders – here’s how.
If ever you needed a reminder of why your immune system plays an important role in keeping you healthier, the COVID-19 pandemic did just that. Your immune system not only helps you fight off viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but it also protects your body from other viruses, bacteria and toxins so you don’t get sick.
A strong immune response helps you fight off illness and stay healthier. The good news is there are things you can do every day to strengthen your immune system so it’s ready to take on viruses and other invaders if your body is exposed to them. These include:
- Exercise regularly. In addition to its physical and mental health benefits, exercise improves immune system functioning. When you’re active, it’s easier for your body to move bacteria out of your lungs, circulate antibodies and white blood cells more efficiently, and reduce the production of stress hormones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Aerobic activities include running, swimming, brisk walking, biking or any activity that makes your heart pump faster.
- Eat healthy. A diet that contains too much sugar, salt, carbohydrates and unhealthy fats may increase inflammation throughout your body and make your immune system less effective. Chronic inflammation has even been linked to the development of diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, bowel diseases and cancer. A healthy diet should include whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Sleep well. Irritability and fatigue aren’t the only consequences of a poor night’s sleep. While you snooze, your body produces cytokines, proteins that help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. When lack of sleep becomes a chronic problem, you may notice you tend to catch colds and other illnesses more often. To help improve your sleep, follow the same sleep schedule every day, make your bedroom comfortable and quiet, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and other stimulants before bed.
- Lower stress. Chronic stress increases inflammation and decreases the number of white blood cells available to fight infections. Keep stress under control by making time for activities and hobbies you enjoy. Yoga, meditation or massage can also help you feel calmer. Not surprisingly, many Americans have felt more stressed than usual this past year. In fact, 67% of people surveyed by the American Psychological Association reported feeling stressed due to the pandemic. But even if you have good reason to be stressed, learning how to manage it is an important step in avoiding illness and staying healthier overall.
- Reduce (or quit) drinking and smoking. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes may affect your body’s ability to fight off illnesses and infections. Smoking makes it particularly difficult to fight viral and bacterial infections that affect the lungs, according to the Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. Lowering your intake of these substances, or quitting completely, is an effective way to strengthen your immune system.
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Date Last Reviewed: May 11, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD