How to boost your immune system

While there are no miracle cures guaranteed to boost your immune system and protect you from the cold and flu this winter, you can certainly support your immune system by leading a healthy lifestyle.

The immune system is complex and influenced by many factors. You can strengthen it by eating a balanced diet, consisting of a range of vitamins and minerals, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly and managing stress.

Eat a balanced diet

Certain nutrients play a major role in supporting immune function; they’re not produced by the body, meaning we must get them from food. Eating a variety of nutritious foods will provide you with adequate amounts of these and other essential nutrients.

  • Vitamin C is a well known antioxidant – this means it’s able to protect cells from harmful molecules called free radicals, which are formed in response to infection. Vitamin C also stimulates the activity of white blood cells, which protect the body against infection.
  • Iron: The immune system relies on sufficient iron to fight off infection. A diet too low in iron can weaken the immune system. Combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods helps boost iron absorption, especially from plant foods.
  • Zinc supports the growth and normal functioning of immune cells. Zinc deficiency can impair the activity of immune cells, which decreases resistance to bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
  • Vitamin D is particularly important for the optimal functioning of your immune system, including fighting infection. We get around 80-90% of our vitamin D from the sun, and the remaining 10-20% from our diet. This means in the winter months, or any time you are spending more time indoors, it’s even more important to include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet.
  • Supplementation and immunity

    While taking a vitamin or mineral supplement won’t hurt in most cases, there are some notable exceptions. For example, too much iron can be harmful and may actually suppress the immune system.

    On the whole, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from food rather than in pill form. If you feel you may benefit from supplementation, the best course of action is to seek the advice of your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

    Look after your gut

    Inside your gut, there are trillions of live bacteria. These bacteria impact a range of bodily processes such as digestion, metabolism, hormone production and – yep, you guessed it – immune function. Your gut bacteria help your immune cells differentiate between a foreign invader and the body’s own tissues. An overgrowth of harmful bacteria can result in your immune system attacking your own cells instead of invaders, like the cold or flu.

    Around 70% of your immune cells are housed in your gut, so making sure your digestive system is in tip-top shape is key to maintaining a strong immune system.

  • Make sleep a priority

    A good night’s sleep is extremely important for health; in fact, it’s just as important as healthy eating and regular exercise. Your body needs around 7-9 hours of sleep each day to rest, regenerate and heal. If getting adequate shuteye is a struggle for you, consider these suggestions to improve your sleep:

      Go to bed at the same time each night

      Avoid consuming caffeine after 2pm

      Create a relaxing bedtime environment

      Put your phone away before bed

      Have a read before turning out the light

      Avoid eating close to bedtime

      Enjoy a relaxing bath or shower before bed

    Be active

    Regular exercise is a key component of healthy living. It improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, helps control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise contributes to general good health and, therefore, to a healthy immune system.

    Not much of an exercise buff? That’s okay! Start small, pick an activity you enjoy – it could be walking, dancing, swimming… anything that gets your heart rate up – and work your way towards 30 minutes of exercise every day.

    Manage stress

    When we’re stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off infection is reduced, which can make us more susceptible to illness. Consider these suggestions to help manage stress in your life:

      Exercise regularly

      Try a mindfulness practice like yoga or meditation

      Practice eating mindfully

      Connect with friends and family

      Try to get adequate sleep

    The bottom line

    Protecting yourself against getting sick isn’t as simple as eating the occasional orange or popping a vitamin pill.

    A truly healthy immune system depends on long-term adherence to a balanced diet. Think of it like training for battle – your body needs to prepare ahead of time so it can throw a good punch next time it’s attacked.

    Thanks for reading and we hope these tips help you to stay well over winter!

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