Does your immune system tend to slow you down? Is winter synonymous with colds & flus for you? Are you tired of your immune system holding you back from enjoying the things you love?
This means it’s time for you to start supporting your immune system, with more than wearing face masks and constant hand washing. Of course, keeping bacteria out of your system is key, but another way to ensure infection-fighting efficiency is making sure your immune system functions optimally. Meanwhile, it might seem as if the immune system is independent and can’t be persuaded, but there are factors like your lifestyle and diet that can heavily influence the actions of immune cells.
Let’s take a deeper dive into understanding 10 actual ways to strengthen your immune system:
- Make time for yoga
The cobra pose can do more than just strengthen your lower back. Yoga has two great purposes, especially when it comes to supporting the immune system: it can enhance it and can help lower stress levels.1 Studies show that yoga can decrease inflammatory markers, and doing yoga over a long period of time can help strengthen immunity.2 Lowering stress levels can further enhance immune function as high levels of cortisol are linked with dysregulated immune function and reactivation of latent viruses like shingles.3
- Be mindful
Just like yoga, being mindful and engaging in mindfulness-based stress reduction exercises not only decreases stress levels (which we know as being effective in supporting immunity) but it also acts directly on the immune system by improving its function.4 Talk about a win-win!
- Eat well
Vitamins and minerals act as direct communicators to our immune cells. In fact, key minerals like zinc and vitamins like vitamin C and D can influence the function of these cells. But it’s not just about micronutrients. Macronutrients can also influence how well our immune system works.5 The most well-researched diet is a Mediterranean-style diet that focuses on including more anti-inflammatory foods which are high in omega-3 fatty acids like olive and avocado oil and emphasizes whole grains, fruits & vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.6 We love this diet because it has vast health benefits like lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, improving cognition and supporting immune function.7
- Get your Zzzs
Not many people are getting enough good sleep. Yes, there is such a thing as “good” sleep. Good sleep is when you don’t have any trouble falling asleep, and staying asleep, and when feel refreshed when you wake up. Sleep is important for all areas of health, from cognition to mood8, but many don’t know how it impacts the immune system. During slumber, the immune system releases important proteins, and cytokines, which target infection and inflammation. Research has identified that those who don’t get more than 7 hours of sleep are 3 times more likely to catch a cold.10
- Get active
Exercise and being active have tremendous health benefits like reducing risk of disease, strengthening bones and muscles, improving brain health and so much more.11Exercise also benefits the immune system in two ways:
- it improves stress which we know is closely related to immune function
- it directly impacts the immune system
Studies show that those who exercise, about 30-45 minutes a day, have more defensive immune cells circulating and acting as surveillance for foreign invaders.11 So grab your sneakers and sweatpants and get those immune cells moving!
- Drink less
Before you head to the bar for another drink, stop and think about your immune system. Alcohol has a direct impact on how well immune cells function, especially in the lungs. Studies have identified that alcohol can weaken the immune cells that live in the lungs along with key structures like the lungs’ fine hairs which work to clear pathogens out of the airways. When these systems are compromised, there is a higher chance of being infected with viruses.12
- Smoke less (or not at all)
While we know the harmful effects of smoking, like the increased risk of lung cancer, it’s also important to know that it impacts the overall immune system. Chemicals found in cigarettes can increase inflammation and prevent immune cells from doing their job.13 It also damages immune cells, and the balance is disrupted, linking smoking with the development of autoimmune diseases.14
- Practice hydrotherapy
This is an ancient healing practice that uses water in various forms and temperatures. Contrast hydrotherapy is one of the most popular forms of hydrotherapy, so popular that you may have even seen it trending on social media. Traditionally, a hot and cold dip would require two tubs of water and isn’t something that can be easily done for everyone at home. That’s why contrast showers are a modern and convenient way to soak in their health benefits. Here’s how to have contrast showers:
- Begin with hot water (1-2 minutes)
- Change to cold water (30 seconds)
- Continue this cycle 2-4 times and always finish on cold.
Not only is this alternating shower refreshing and rejuvenating, it also has immense health benefits. Research shows that changes in temperature increase blood flow,15 decrease muscle fatigue,16 and decrease swelling.16 For the immune system, being exposed to cold increases important infection-fighting cells like natural-killer cells and white blood cells.15
- Get enough vitamin D
It’s no secret that vitamin D is an immune cell saviour, however, many Canadians are not getting enough vitamin D. It’s not a nutrient that can easily be found in food, as only mushrooms and salmon are natural sources of vitamin D, and you’d need to eat about 2 oz of salmon 17 or 45 button mushrooms18 every day to achieve the recommended daily allowance. Another way to get vitamin D is via the sun, but let’s face it, long winters and short sunny days (or none at all) can prevent you from getting all the vitamin D your immunity needs.
- Supplement your immunity with evidence-based nutrients that work
You may not know it – yet – but there is more than just vitamin D for supporting immunity. Scientists are constantly looking for other solutions for improved, well-supported immune systems. Beta-glucans are one such example. A special form of betaglucans coming from yeast work as immunomodulators supporting your innate immune response. This helps your immune system to function as needed no matter what is thrown your way.19 Thankfully, Progressive makes it easy for you to get a synergistic blend of immune-supporting nutrients like beta-glucans, vitamin C and zinc. Look to Immuno Daily Support to maintain a healthy immune system!
- Eda N, Ito H, Shimizu K, Suzuki S, Lee E, Akama T. Yoga stretching for improving salivary immune function and mental stress in middle-aged and older adults. Journal of women & aging. 2018 May 4;30(3):227-41.
- Falkenberg, R. I., Eising, C., & Peters, M. L. (2018). Yoga and immune system functioning: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of behavioral medicine, 41(4), 467–482. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-018-9914-y
- Morey, J. N., Boggero, I. A., Scott, A. B., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2015). Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Current opinion in psychology, 5, 13–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.03.007
- Janusek LW, Tell D, Mathews HL. Mindfulness-based stress reduction provides psychological benefit and restores immune function of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer: a randomized trial with active control. Brain, behavior, and immunity. 2019 Aug 1;80:358-73.
- Gombart, A. F., Pierre, A., & Maggini, S. (2020). A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients, 12(1), 236. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010236
- Gunnars, K. (2021, October 25). Mediterranean diet 101: Meal plan, foods list, and tips. Healthline. Retrieved September 9, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan
- Casas R, Sacanella E, Estruch R. The immune protective effect of the Mediterranean diet against chronic low-grade inflammatory diseases. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-Immune, Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders). 2014 Dec 1;14(4):245-54.
- Tsuno N, Besset A, Ritchie K. Sleep and depression. The Journal of clinical psychiatry. 2005 Oct.
- Cohen S, Doyle WJ, Alper CM, Janicki-Deverts D, Turner RB. Sleep habits and susceptibility to the common cold. Archives of internal medicine. 2009 Jan 12;169(1):62-7.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, June 16). Benefits of physical activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm#:~:text=Being%20physically%20active%20can%20improve,activity%20gain%20some%20health%20benefits.
- Nieman, D. C., & Wentz, L. M. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body's defense system. Journal of sport and health science, 8(3), 201–217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009
- Ries, J. (2020, April 22). How alcohol can affect your immune system. Healthline. Retrieved January 17, 2023, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/can-alcohol-hurt-your-immune-system-during-covid-19-outbreak#Drinking-impairs-immune-cells-in-key-organs
- Qiu, F., Liang, C. L., Liu, H., Zeng, Y. Q., Hou, S., Huang, S., Lai, X., & Dai, Z. (2017). Impacts of cigarette smoking on immune responsiveness: Up and down or upside down?. Oncotarget, 8(1), 268–284. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.13613
- Smoking and overall health - centers for disease control and prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_overall_health_508.pdf
- Mooventhan A, Nivethitha L. Scientific evidence-based effects of hydrotherapy on various systems of the body. N Am J Med Sci. 2014 May;6(5):199-209. doi: 10.4103/1947-2714.132935. PMID: 24926444; PMCID: PMC4049052.
- Stanborough, R. J. (2020, July 29). Contrast bath hydrotherapy: Benefits, treatment, instructions. Healthline. Retrieved September 15, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/contrast-bath
- Jakobsen, J., Smith, C., Bysted, A., & Cashman, K. D. (2019). Vitamin D in wild and farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)—what do we know? Nutrients, 11(5), 982. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11050982
- Cardwell, G., Bornman, J. F., James, A. P., & Black, L. J. (2018). A Review of Mushrooms as a Potential Source of Dietary Vitamin D. Nutrients, 10(10), 1498. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101498
- De Marco Castro, E., Calder, P. C., & Roche, H. M. (2021). β-1,3/1,6-Glucans and Immunity: State of the Art and Future Directions. Molecular nutrition & food research, 65(1), e1901071. https://doi.org/10.1002/mnfr.201901071