Over the past year, health has become a top priority for many of us. We are now more motivated than ever to work towards better health. Though there are many ways to achieve this goal, adopting habits that support the immune system is one method that offers maximum benefits.
The primary function of your immune system is to defend your body against foreign invaders. It is responsible for keeping harmful things out, getting rid of any harmful things that get in, and taking care of your body’s own cells that aren’t working correctly. Because you need immune patrols to be available just about everywhere, the immune system can be found in all parts of the body. A lot of it is located in the digestive system, since this is the primary way you bring “foreign” things into your body. Other places you will find the immune system include the tonsils, lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. There are two main parts of the immune system:
Together, these two systems work to protect your body from harm and play an important role in maintaining health. So, what can you do to support your immune system? In general, choosing a healthy lifestyle is a good place to start. This ensures that you are meeting your body’s, and thus your immune system’s, basic needs to function well. Below are five strategies you can use to help strengthen your immune system.
1. Get adequate sleep
Research looking at sleep and physical health has made clear that regular, high-quality sleep is essential for proper immune function. Studies show that just like sleep can help the brain consolidate learning and memory, it can also strengthen immune memory. Particularly, the interaction of immune system components during sleep reinforces the immune system’s ability to remember, recognize, and respond to potential health threats. For adults, experts recommend getting approximately seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
2. Exercise regularly
Moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise has been shown to benefit the immune system by improving the activity of certain immune cells, such as macrophages and stimulating the circulation of others, such as cytokines, Natural Killer (NK) cells, T-cells, and B-cells. With regular exercise, these changes accumulate over time to help strengthen the immune system. Research also suggests that habitual exercise may delay the onset of immunosenescence, which is the natural decline in immune function that occurs with age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly, or 30 minutes five days per week. They also recommend muscle-strengthening activities two days per week.
3. Minimize stress
In small amounts, stress can be a good thing. It is what allows you to respond quickly in dangerous situations and helps keep you productive in day-to-day life. But high levels of stress, or stress that sticks around for a long time, can be harmful. When you experience a stressful situation, the brain activates stress-signaling pathways, which stimulate the release of hormones that regulate immune function. Chronic stress keeps these pathways turned on and hormone levels, such as cortisol, high. When this happens, both innate and adaptive immune responses can be suppressed, potentially interfering with your body’s ability to defend itself from harm. For this reason, finding ways to incorporate stress-reducing activities, such as meditation, into your daily life is important for supporting immune health.
4. Eat a diet high in fruits and veggies
Good nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally, and this includes the cells of your immune system. A balanced diet provides the energy immune cells need to carry out their many functions. Specific micronutrients and dietary components, found in fruits and veggies, also have specific roles in the development and maintenance of an effective immune system. For example, zinc regulates cell division and is essential for a successful immune response. Additionally, the amino acid glutamine provides an energy source for immune cells and serves as a precursor for DNA synthesis, which is important for these rapidly dividing cells. According to the USDA’s dietary guidelines, adults should be eating two and half cups of veggies and two cups of fruit every day.
5. Take immune boosting supplements
The best way to load up on nutrients is through food. Most foods created by mother nature contain a variety of nutrients that are balanced and readily absorbed by your body. But, because it’s not always easy to maintain a perfect diet, finding ways to fill in the gaps is important. That’s where supplements come in; they provide an alternative way to get those nutrients you might be lacking. To maintain immune health, reach for foods and/or supplements that contain nutrients such as glutamine, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, selenium, and iron. These nutrients have been identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells.
As you work to incorporate these strategies into your daily routine, keep in mind that they are just guidelines meant to help you along your journey towards better health. It is important to remember that you are an individual that has unique needs. As such, pay close attention to how each practice makes you feel and adapt to meet your specific health needs.
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