The human immune system is a wonderfully complex network of cells, proteins, hormones, and organs working together to defend the body against disease-causing microbes. It often does an excellent job of identifying and driving out pathogens that can cause illnesses.
However, our immune systems may also fail us at times. Microbes such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites may enter our body successfully and cause disease, despite our immune systems’ defenses.
What should you do if your immune system seems to fail you often? Boosting your immunity is often the answer. However, improving your immunity is a complex issue that doesn’t always lead to taking several supplements or lifestyle changes.
Harvard, a respected leader in health, clues us in on how to properly boost your immune system. This article will debunk some myths about improving one’s immune system and will give sound advice on what’s truly needed to keep the immune system running smoothly.
Can the immune system truly be improved?
Most people equate the phrase boosting your immune system to concepts such as taking various kinds of food supplements or changing unhealthy habits in your lifestyle. However, health experts at Harvard don’t believe that the immune system can directly be improved.
They note that the immunity is comprised of an entire complex system that needs harmony and balance to function well. As such, there’s no direct scientific link yet between an improved immune system and lifestyle factors. This is because there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding the immune system’s interconnections.
However, Harvard experts do recognize that lifestyle affects the immune system in some ways. Continuing research about age, stress, diet, physical activity, sleep, and similar factors are all undertaken to see if changes in these lifestyle factors can truly improve the immune function. This is in the context of maintaining a balance between all the cells, organs, proteins, hormones, and all other elements of a healthy immune system.
Boosting the immune system the right way
There are no direct recommendations to boost the immune system directly and perfectly. What you can do, according to Harvard health experts, is live a generally healthy life by following these healthy living strategies:
Nourish your body with the right nutrients
You can’t go wrong with a healthy diet. Experts agree that a diet filled with fruits and vegetables and low in sugar and processed meats is the best one to help enhance immune function.
Thinking if a particular super-fruit or vegetable should be added to your daily meals specifically to boost your immunity? Not really, experts at Harvard advise. Increasing the number of different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains is a better way to go.
Now, some animal studies show micro-nutrient deficiencies could result in altered immune functions. More research in humans must be conducted, however, these animal studies suggest links between nutrition and immunity.
As such, you may have yourself checked if you think you suffer from a micro-nutrient deficiency. Maybe you don’t have the opportunity to include many nutritious foods to your diet because of your busy lifestyle. Or you may simply not like eating leafy greens, for instance.
Whatever the reason, you can have yourself screened right away if you think your diet doesn’t meet your nutritional needs. Your physician may screen for deficiencies of the following:
- Vitamins A, B6, C, E
- Folic acid
You’ll likely be advised to take daily doses of multivitamins or mineral supplements to correct your deficiency problem. Take what is advised but don’t go overboard. This will help nourish your body back to good health, and immune function will likely improve, too.
Practice good hygiene
Good hygiene is tantamount to keeping germs away from the body as much as possible. Good hygiene includes frequent hand-washing, cough etiquette, and other similar practices.
Many kinds of germs can be transmitted by inhaling them from the air, such as influenza and common cold viruses. However, there’s a large number of pathogens that can be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces, such as the COVID-19 virus.
Here are some simple ways to incorporate good hygiene to your routines:
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for around 20 seconds. The entire procedure should last around 40 seconds, including rinsing.
Make regular hand-washing a habit, especially during these times:
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- Before and after food preparation
- After using the bathroom
- After coming in from outside
- After touching animals and pets
- After cleaning around the house
If hand-washing isn’t possible, rub your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for 20-30 seconds.
- Use a handkerchief or tissue when you sneeze and cough. Use the back of your elbow to cough and sneeze if you don’t have tissues or handkerchiefs.
- Stop squeezing and picking at various wounds, blemishes, and pimples. Doing so may spread harmful germs to nearby body parts.
Get enough rest and sleep
Sleep is essential in maintaining balance within the body. As you sleep, biological processes that help maintain your body’s various organs and systems all happen. And this includes the immune system.
You need to clock in 7-9 hours of restful sleep per day. Some ways to get quality sleep include:
- Setting a specific sleep time and sticking to it every day
- Turning off all electronic devices a few minutes before bedtime
- Meditating, reading a book, or doing gentle stretches before you sleep
- Taking a warm shower just before sleeping
Move your body regularly
Regular physical activity also contributes to keeping your immune system in tip-top condition. It improves circulation throughout the body, allowing the cells and other components of the immune system to get enough nourishment from the blood while letting them move around the body freely. The result is an immune system that can properly do its job of protecting you from illnesses.
Recommendations for physical activity are as follows:
- Moderate aerobic exercise – 150 minutes spread out in a week, or:
- Vigorous aerobic activity – 75 minutes spread out in a week
- Strength-training at least twice a week
Even small amounts of physical activity can add up when consistently done daily. Keep in mind that any activity is better than nothing!
Keep the stress away
Stress has been linked to several illnesses such as hives, stomach problems, and even heart ailments. Meanwhile, more studies are underway concerning the relationship between stress and immune responses. These studies prove challenging, as not all factors related to stress can easily be controlled in a laboratory.
However, keeping the stress away can contribute to general health and well-being at the least. Try relaxation activities such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, or abdominal breathing exercises. All these activities will help release the tension stress has put on several areas of your body. You’ll likely feel recharged and refreshed afterward!
Harvard experts agree on one thing: There’s no intervention you can do to directly boost your immune system. This is because the immune system is too intricate and interconnected, which means many things are yet to be known about how it works and how independent activities and factors affect its function.
However, keeping yourself generally healthy doesn’t hurt your immune function. Lifestyle may play a huge role in keeping the immune system working at its best. As such, scientists are still looking for solid pieces of evidence regarding lifestyle’s direct effects on the immune system.
What you can do now is keep yourself as healthy as possible. Lifestyle modifications like eating a proper diet, practicing good hygiene, getting enough sleep and exercise, and keeping stress at bay will all do your health and immune function good in the long run.