Now more than ever is the perfect time to work on improving your immune system, because let’s face it, we need all the help we can get to fight off bugs and viruses, regardless of whether it is the ‘latest variant’ or just the common cold.
Our immune system helps protect the body from disease and via the lymphatic system, spleen, white blood cells, thymus, antibodies, and more. As a team, they work to defend the body from disease-causing germs like fungi, parasites, viruses, and bacteria. Even if you think you have a solid immune system, you may not realise how some lifestyle factors can reduce it’s ability to function properly. This may include poor nutrition, smoking, lack of sleep, stress, too much alcohol intake, obesity and even just good ‘ole ageing.
Typically people who do not have a decent immune system will suffer from digestion problems, repeated illnesses or infections and/or fatigue. So how do we naturally improve our immunity?
First off, manage your stress! Chronic stress elevates your cortisol and adrenaline hormones which can cause increased blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and decreased digestive ability. These reactions can eventually lead to heart disease, gut dysfunction, diabetes, and autoimmune disease.
There are many stress reducing activities that you can involve yourself in including meditation/mindfulness which simply means to take some time to be present in the moment, not focused on the past, and not worried about the future….especially now during these crazy times!
Other healthy ways to cope with feelings of stress include talking to someone objective like a trusted mentor or therapist, taking a yoga class (think hatha, yin or restorative), listening to your favourite music, reading a book or going for a walk in nature.
Next, getting enough sleep is crucial. When you are sleep deprived, your inflammatory cells go up, and your immune fighting T-cells go down. Over time, these cellular changes may lead to an increased risk of catching anything going around.
If you are having trouble with sleep, break it down to see if you can change a few habits ie going to bed at the same time every night, reducing caffeine/alcohol consumption especially later in the day, and avoiding eating late. There are many phone apps available these days as well to help send you off to sleep with guided meditation and relaxation music.
Get the right type and enough exercise! Movement balances immunity by slowing the release of stress hormones, increasing body temperature which may help prevent bacteria from growing, improving oxygen intake into the body and circulating bug fighting immune cells more quickly through the body.
Different types of exercise programs work well for different bodies so speak to a professional to have a program designed specifically for you. This may include weight training at the gym, brisk walking, playing team sports, hiking, swimming, attending higher intensity yoga classes (ie power or hot), pilates, and more.
Finally, never under estimate the power of food! Eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals may be the most important piece to your healthy immune system puzzle. Plant-based foods provide most of the nutrients needed by the immune cells for them to function optimally and protect your body against disease. Increase your intake of nutrient-dense foods that are great for supporting the immune system such as:
- Anti-inflammatory foods like olive oil, mackerel, salmon, turmeric, flax seeds, and chia seeds
- Fermented foods high in probiotics like sauerkraut, kefir, natto, and kimchi
- High vitamin C foods including lemons, limes, grapefruits, red bell peppers, spinach, papaya, and oranges
- Foods rich in antioxidants including broccoli, green tea, blueberries, dark chocolate, beans, artichokes, and goji berries
- Foods high in vitamin E like almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, hazelnuts, and peanuts
- Zinc-rich foods like oysters, crab, mussels, lobster, beans, and nuts
Staying hydrated is also critical as dehydration can hinder your kidney, heart, and digestive function, which increases your risk of illness. Limiting sugar intake and refined carbohydrates can also have positive effects on immune health as added sugars contribute to immune-suppressing conditions including inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
More than likely, you will not be getting enough vitamins and minerals via diet alone so it may be worth seeing a nutritionist to determine where you might be deficient. While increasing plant-based foods is the best solution, supplements can help bridge the gap just in case you fall short.
Finally, talk to us here at Botanique Skin Wellness Spa about treatments that may assist with your stress reduction and immunity building such as private yoga and meditation sessions, infrared therapy, lymphatic and hot stone massage, designing a food and exercise program with a qualified practitioner, and more.