Most of us have guzzled orange juice or scarfed down chicken soup when we are sick, and there’s no question that these are popular foods for fighting off germs. But what can we do to bolster our immunity all year?
A well-balanced diet packed with immune-strengthening foods and healthy lifestyle habits is key to keeping our bodies strong.
1. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Vegetables
Like an orchestra that plays together perfectly, your immune system relies on every part to function optimally. And while a well-balanced diet won’t protect you from all sickness and disease, it does provide key nutrients that help keep your immune system healthy.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which help fight free radicals that damage cells and cause illness. Look for nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables in vibrant colors, including leafy greens, berries and dark colored peppers.
Protein is important for building immune cells and for repairing and healing tissues. Aim for at least 25 grams (g) of protein a day, from lean meats, chicken breast and eggs to plant-based sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. A cup of cooked lentils provides 18 g of protein.
2. Drink Plenty of Water
The immune system needs water to function properly. Aim for at least eight glasses per day.
You’ll need plenty of protein for immune health as well. It’s a key building block for antibodies and cells that support immunity, and helps the body heal after fighting an infection or injury.
Try adding a variety of proteins to your diet, such as poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), eggs, legumes (lentils, beans), nuts, seeds and seafood. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are also important for immune health.
Although a number of supplements and foods are touted to help boost immunity, the immune system is complex and operates in delicate balance, so there’s no one food or supplement that will offer special protection. A healthy, balanced diet and tried-and-true lifestyle habits are what primes the body to fight infections and illness.
3. Get Enough Sleep
A lot of products and activities claim to help boost your immune system. But most experts agree that a healthy diet and enough sleep are the best ways to keep your immunity health strong.
Research shows that sleep enhances both innate and adaptive immunity. Insufficient sleep weakens the immune system and makes it more vulnerable to infection. Sleep also helps the body create and maintain immune memory.
To get the most benefits from your sleep, make it a priority and stick to a regular schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Turn off all electronic devices an hour before you hit the sack, and make sure your room is cool, dark and quiet.
4. Exercise Regularly
While a well-balanced diet can support immune health, regular exercise is also important. “It’s a great way to increase white blood cells that protect the body against infections,” Dr. Elliott says. Exercise increases blood flow, reduces stress and strengthens antibodies, which all help support immune system function.
In addition to boosting the immune system, regular exercise can also help prevent chronic disease. It’s important to stick with a routine that includes cardiovascular exercise and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days each week.
It’s also important to avoid habits that may suppress immunity, such as smoking and consuming too much sugar, salt or saturated fat. Instead, focus on getting plenty of exercise, limiting alcohol and making sure you get adequate sleep. These healthy habits will give you the best chance of fighting off germs, staying healthy and avoiding illness this season and throughout the year.
5. Take a Multivitamin
Several studies suggest that malnutrition is linked to poor immune health. Low levels of vitamins C and D, zinc and other nutrients may increase inflammation and susceptibility to infection. Taking a multivitamin can provide immune-boosting nutrients that you might not be getting through diet alone.
Many people seek out foods and supplements believed to boost immunity, such as vitamin C, chicken soup, tea with honey and more. However, it is important to remember that the immune system is a complex network that requires an ideal balance of many factors. Generally, balanced diets that include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and lean protein, plus adequate sleep and exercise, most effectively prime the immune system to fight disease.