Disclaimer: The following is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should refer to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), or other credentialed public health authorities for up-to-date information for proper measures to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Our immune systems are an amazing network of tissue, cells, and organs that work together to defend us against disease-causing pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. However, sometimes it is not able to protect us fully. When this happens and a germ does invade our body, having a strong and healthy immune system gives us our best chance of fighting off infection effectively and making a quick recovery.
How can we optimize our immune systems?
Research shows that developing healthy habits including a balanced diet, exercise, reducing psychological stress, maintaining a strong support system all contribute to enhanced immunity.
How do you actually implement these habits into your daily routine?
We have outlined some simple action steps to help you support your immunity every day.
11 Essential Immune Habits
1. Rethink the handshake.
Even though we are very used to greeting friends, family members, and colleagues with a handshake or a hug this may not be advised during times when minimal contact is required.
Try finding new and creative ways to interact with those in your life such as incorporating a foot bump, tapping elbows tap, or giving non-contact air hugs. You may feel silly when you first start incorporating these into your daily routine but it also may be a refreshing change that you can have fun with and personalize.
2. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.
Washing your hands is one of the most effective measures we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Proper hand washing includes using soap and either cold or hot water as well as scrubbing all parts of your hands including between your fingers and fingernails for 20 seconds.
If you are not able to wash your hands, using a hand sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol can help reduce the growth of certain germs. Avoiding touching your face may be more of a challenge as many of us do so multiple times throughout the day without even realizing it. However, some microorganisms, including disease-causing pathogens can survive for up to 9 days which means the likelihood of us coming into contact with them is greatly increased.
Since COVID-19 has been shown to be very adept at entering the body through contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth, becoming aware of when you touch your face and limiting contact is extremely important.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Individuals who are overweight tend to suffer from more infections compared to their healthy weight peers. Research suggests that the immune cells in overweight or obese individuals do not respond as effectively due to decreased cytokine production, altered lymphocyte as well as macrophage function, and natural killer cell dysfunction.
4. Exercise regularly.
Exercise and physical activity are key components of overall health. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, helps maintain a healthy weight, assists with blood glucose control, and improves our mood.
Exercise can decrease our levels of stress hormones and give a boost of the “feel good” hormones. Evidence supports that regular moderate exercise is linked to improved immune function by increasing the number of certain immune cells.
While your local gym may be closed, it’s still possible to get your blood pumping! Explore a new walking route or check out some fun at-home workout videos online.
5. Find new ways to connect with your loved ones.
Friends help you relax, unwind and be yourself, forgetting your worries and troubles for a while. Friends are just what you need to support your emotions and make you feel strong when you are feeling down. Just make sure you socialize with the right crowd, go remote rather than face to face.
6. Eat lots of colorful antioxidant-rich fruits & vegetables.
While we may feel like we have little control over what is going on in the world right now, one thing we can do to keep ourselves healthy is to nourish our bodies with foods to support our immune system.
Balancing a variety of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins at each meal is a great place to start. Additionally, incorporating omega-3 fatty acids from sources such as salmon or mackerel, and probiotics from fermented foods such as yogurt or kimchi can boost immunity.
Getting a wide variety of these foods can help you cover your bases to get many different nutrients that can help contribute to a healthy immune system.
7. Get outside for some sunshine.
Being in nature can boost our happiness. Walking around and taking in fresh air is a great option if you are feeling cooped up in your home. Sunshine can boost your body’s Vitamin D levels which is another great way to support a healthy immune system.
8. Reduce alcohol and/or quit smoking.
Drinking alcohol, especially in large quantities, can reduce the number and function of three important kinds of cells in your immune system–macrophages, T and C cells. Macrophages are the first line of defense against disease.
Smoking also decreases the body’s success of fighting infection. Avoiding smoking and sticking to 1 alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men will help keep the immune system strong.
9. Get plenty of fluids.
Proper hydration is essential for normal body functions, including our kidney and lymphatic system which filters waste. Aim for 64 ounces (about 8 cups) of fluids each day to keep your body hydrated.
10. Get adequate sleep
During sleep, the immune system releases proteins called cytokines. We need more cytokines when we have an infection or when under a lot of stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines.
In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each evening to keep your immune system running strong.
11. Take some time out of your day to laugh.
The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. People who are happier tend to be healthier and stronger. Laughter improves your mental state, relieves stress, and gives you a stronger immune system.
Take some time to think about ways to reduce your stress levels. Can you go for a walk in nature? Meditate or practice yoga? Listen to a funny podcast or watch a comedy TV show?
Yours in health,
Sherry Zhang, Ph.D.
Founder & CEO
Now that you've learned a bit about how nutrition can impact your immune system, you can do a couple of different things:
1. Read the next installment of our Immunity Series: Aging, Nutrition, & the Immune System to continue learning.
2. Discover the best foods for your genes and start Eating For Your Genes through our Nutrition DNA Test