So as I am currently supporting my own family recovering from niggling infections and viruses, I thought this would be a good topic to share.
Our immune system acts like a detective constantly looking for what can threaten the harmony in the body. It finds the invader, promotes a response to prevent damage as well as is constantly busy in the repair process. I feel there is so much that we ourselves can do to support the immune system with lifestyle choices.
Some of my main tips to keep the immune system robust include:
- Stress management. I have purposefully chosen this as the first tip as I feel stress is a leading driver for many. The thing which is worse is that most of us do not even acknowledge that we are stressed or it could be having an impact on all aspects of our wellbeing. With constant pressure of achieving, fear of missing out and trying to have more, we forget what we are putting ourselves through. Constant stress results in raised stress hormones and this has a negative impact on the body in various ways; one of them being reduced immunity. Ways to manage stress include having a work life balance, being able to give yourself some me time, to be able to enjoy things which give you a sense of purpose, meditation, and just the act of being. A good place to start is to reflect on how last week was and what can you do to have a little less stress the following week. I always check my schedule for the week ahead. I love to have little events once or twice a month which I look forward to. It could be meeting a friend for lunch or a walk in nature. I have become better at saying ‘no’ when my diary does not allow that luxury. I feel making ourselves busier than we need to be just adds to the stress and is no good for anyone. Personally I have found mindfulness and journaling extremely powerful tools to manage stress. My advice would be to try it for just few minutes when your day allows.
- Healthy sleep routine. 7 to 8 hours of sleep is the ideal times your body needs to function at its best. Look at your sleep over last month and if you’re not able to hit the target hours, I would advise you to reflect on what you are trading your snooze time for. Screen time is a big culprit here. Being exposed to screens during the evening time can affect your circadian rhythm by reducing the melatonin, the hormone responsible for sound sleep. Staying hydrated and reducing salt intake in food can also promote good sleep.
- Diet and nutrition. For this section my main tip would be to unprocess your diet as much as possible. This is the easiest way to avoid chemicals which can play havoc with the immune system.
Add fresh fruits and vegetables as much as possible to the daily meal plan. Aim to have 10 servings a day as these are the main sources of antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids, minerals and vitamins which support good immunity.
Make sure that you are taking vitamin D regularly as it is essential in maintaining a good immune system.
Vitamins A and C have important roles in preventing infections. Vitamin C acts as a natural anti-histamine and anti- inflammatory which helps when recovering from general viral or bacterial infections. Pumpkin, spinach and sweet potatoes are rich in Vitamin A whereas red peppers, oranges and green vegetable are good sources of vitamin C.
Selenium which is present in food items like brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, acts as a key nutrient for immune function.
Probiotics have good bacteria which supports the gut health by improving regulation of the immune system. These would include food items like onion, garlic, artichokes, and fermented food. I regularly use fermented food as part of my meals by adding homemade dosa (fermented lentil pancake), pickled vegetables, kimchi or sourdough bread.
Pumpkin seeds, beans and cashews are rich in Zinc which is another micronutrient which has vital role in boosting immunity.
Curcurmin found in turmeric acts as an anti-inflammatory which ca help fight colds and coughs by improving the immune system. I have a blend of cinnamon, ginger powder and turmeric which I have in soya milk during the cold weather.
Lastly raw honey can reduce the inflammation in mucous membranes during coughs and colds. It also acts as an antioxidant with some antimicrobial properties.
- Movement is a key immunity booster. I often hear people talk about gym memberships when I raise this issue. However, it is about incorporating regular movement to your daily routine. Trying to arrange small snacks of exercise throughout the day is an extremely good way to look after the innate immunity of our body. So if you are sitting most of the day, have a break every half an hour and go for a little stroll in the house. You could add a few squats, star jumps or lunges in between too. I have a reminder on my phone, during the busy work days when I am mostly sitting down. I try to add some regular stretches to support my back. I haven’t started star jumps in surgery so far, but often stack a good 20 squats by the end of the day without even knowing! Another tip which I have found useful is having some weights in the house where you can just do a few sets while the kettle boils. Research shows that moderate regular exercise has a profound effect on the functioning of the immune system.
- Limit your alcohol intake and keep water your main option for drinks. I would avoid fizzy drinks and cartoned juices as well, as these provide empty calories and processed chemical which can be harmful for the immunity.
- Finally, don’t forget the power of positive connections! Meeting people who uplift you, nourish your soul and journey, make positive contribution when you are maybe not in such a good place, are all vital to keeping us infection free as well. There are always some people who bring negativity around. Maybe try uplifting them with you but if it doesn’t work, knowing your own boundaries it vital too.
Hope this has given some tips for setting up better immunity.