If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that health is the number one priority. As a global community we have gone to great and unprecedented lengths to keep ourselves—and each other—healthy and safe.
The media is not wrong in suggesting that frequently washing your hands will help prevent catching or spreading disease, but what they omit are the plethora of other natural ways to protect yourself (and others as well).
Maintaining a healthy body, from the inside out, is the foundation of illness prevention. Not only Covid-19, but everything from a common cold to pneumonia to cancers as well. Actively putting your health first will not only help prevent you from getting sick altogether, but in the case that you do, you’ll find that the blow is lessened, and you recover more quickly.
Usually, we turn to vitamins such as vitamin C to help us get over a cold (or any other uninvited illness) after we already catch it. Yes, taking vitamin C while you are under the weather will help kick it, but it’s equally (if not more so) important to take the proper steps to building a strong immune system before the germs, free radicals, or disease settle in.
What are some basics to maintaining a healthy body and building a strong immune system?
Consume vitamin-rich foods that directly support your immune system: Incorporating delicious whole foods into your diet will naturally provide your body with the blast of nutrients it needs to combat illness.
Which vitamins are best for boosting your immune system? And which whole foods provide you with a hearty dose of each? We have you covered:
- Vitamin C
- Why? This vitamin is essential for building an army of white blood cells to fight infections. It is also an antioxidant that wards off free radicals.
- Eat: citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, etc.), red bell peppers, broccoli, chili peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, strawberries
- Vitamin B6
- Why? B6 supports the biochemical reactions in your immune system by producing white blood cells and helping the body make the proteins necessary for white blood cell functions.
- Eat: chicken, salmon, tuna, chickpeas, beef liver, potatoes, cottage cheese, bananas, spinach, tofu
- Vitamin E
- Why? Vitamin E supports T cell production, which are vital for coordinating the immune system responses, and is a powerful antioxidant.
- Eat: nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, brazil nuts), avocado, kiwi, mango, blackberries, raspberries, broccoli, butternut squash, asparagus, spinach, green beans
- Vitamin A
- Why? Vitamin A increases the activity of your immune system and also aids in white blood cell production. It also may decrease risk of certain cancers.
- Eat: livers (beef, lamb, liver sausage, cod liver oil, goose liver), fish (mackerel, salmon, bluefin tuna, trout), butter, cheese (goat, cheddar, camembert), eggs, caviar
- Note: If you are a vegetarian, your body can produce vitamin A from the carotenoids found in plants such as kale, sweet potato, collard greens, carrots, spinach, and romaine lettuce.
Exercise: Although there are no studies that link exercise directly to a stronger immune system, studies do show an increase in white blood cell and antibody activity, the rise in temperature during and after a workout may prevent bacteria from growing, and, most importantly, it lowers stress hormones, which in turn lowers your chance at getting sick. Moderate exercise also reduces your chances of developing heart disease.
Stay hydrated: You might feel like this is common knowledge, but being mindful about how much water you’re consuming (or not consuming!) is vital for a properly functioning immune system. Drinking enough water does the following for your immune system:
- Transports nutrients to each organ system
- Increases lymphatic drainage by clearing detoxification pathways to clear out unwanted foreign invaders and waste
- Reduces tension in the body, headaches, low serotonin production, and digestive problems
How much should you drink? Medical practitioners advise drinking half your body weight in ounces of water a day. For example, if you weight 130 pounds, you should drink 65 ounces of water.
Limit Your Stress: We all know that stress is difficult to avoid. Students, teachers, parents, workers… no matter your position, stress will naturally come with the territory. What’s an unfortunate side effect of stress? You guessed it: a weakened immune system.
When your body experiences stress it releases the hormone cortisol, which inhibits your body’s ability to fight off bad invaders by lowering your lymphocyte count (the cells that fight off germs).
So how can you quell stress without abandoning your responsibilities? Studies have shown that the following tactics can help you conquer your mindset:
- Exercise 3-5 days/week to boost your mood, sharpen your focus, and get better sleep.
- Meditate daily. We love to use Headspace, but there are many free alternatives online as well, like this one.
- Practice yoga. Although this can also fall under the “exercise” category, studies have found a direct link to reduced cortisol levels when practicing yoga.
- Be mindful. Practicing mindfulness means being “in the moment” and not allowing an avalanche of thoughts and items on your to-do list take over. Write down your goals for the day and the necessary steps to reach each goal, and take them one at a time.
- Get a massage. Not just an indulgent vacation activity—getting monthly massages has been linked to general lower cortisol levels over time.
- Go outside and connect with nature. Taking a walk through a park or on a trail is a sure-fire way to release tension you’re holding onto.
- Take breaks. Whether these are frequent 5 minute breaks throughout your day or scheduled vacations throughout the year, giving yourself the permission to step away from your tasks isn’t laziness—it’s essential for your wellness.
- Other quick, everyday methods to take: light aromatic candles around the house, breathe deeply, drink a calming tea, spend time with animals, take a 15 minute nap, keep a journal, make time for family and friends.
Get Enough Sleep: Whoever started the rumor that “sleep is the cure” was on to something.
“Sleep provides essential support to the immune system. Getting sufficient hours of high-quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune defense that features strong innate and adaptive immunity, efficient response to vaccines, and less severe allergic reactions.”
Of course, getting a good night of rest can be easier said than done. If you’re in a funk and having a difficult time getting in your z’s, try the any of these handy methods recommended by the best-selling mattress company (and king of sleep), Casper.