It’s always been important to have a healthy immune system, but more so these days. There are things that you can do to maintain yours, especially as we move towards winter.
Strengthening the body’s natural immunity can be done through lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise. By doing the “right things” you can protect yourself against viruses such as influenza and Covid. If you can get your immune system working well, any virus or infection you do pick up will be handled by your body more easily and the effects you feel will be reduced.
The immune system has cells and membranes that prevent viruses and bacteria from entering our system. We also have T-cells – cells that fight off infections, for a long time, at least 15 months – so even if you haven’t been vaccinated, you still have the ability to resist serious illness.
If we take a look at diet, the most important thing you can do to create and maintain a healthy immune system is to follow a mainly plant based diet, according to Philip Calder, a nutritional immunologist professor at the University of Southampton.
Add to that things like a palm-size portion of protein at every meal, which helps the body produce new cells, and chewing your food to a paste, which helps your body extract the nutrients from the food.
Exercising in the right way creates a gentle stress on your body which actually makes your immune system work more effectively.
By exercising in different ways, this helps strengthen the immune system. Experts recommend 10 minutes of gentle stretching to start the day, then later on do something that raises the heart rate such as swimming, walking, cycling or running. The NHS recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate activity over 4 or 5 days.
Strength training is often ignored when trying to get fit, favouring cardio exercise instead, but the thymus gland in the neck (which makes T-cells) reacts positively from strength training, so building this into your week 2-3 times is helpful to your system.
Always give your body time to recover by taking rest days from exercise.
Studies have found that heat and cold cause stress to the body, so using a sauna, which increase your white blood cell count, can promote better immunity. One study found that using a sauna 2 or 3 times a week can reduce the risk of respiratory diseases by 27%. If you don’t have regular or convenient access to a sauna, a similar effect can be achieved by ending your shower with a blast of cold water, of anything from between 30 and 90 seconds (something Wim Hof is passionate about – look him up to find out more).
Good quality sleep is also important to your immunity, so keep your bedroom dark and cool, and avoid using phones, tablets, laptops or watching TV close to bedtime. The T-cells mentioned earlier are able to do their job better when you’re in a deep sleep, so your response to infection is better when you’re sleeping well.
Surprisingly, having a positive outlook can be detrimental to your bodies’ immunity – by trying hard to be positive, this can cause stress which has the opposite effect – so be positive, but don’t try too hard.
The way you breathe can help, especially if you’re in a state of prolonged stress. By breathing slower, you become more relaxed and less stressed. In times of stress, take some time to relax. Take a short breath in through your nose, followed by a long exhale through your mouth, making a sighing noise as you breathe out. Repeat for as long as it takes for you to feel relaxed. I find this useful just before going to sleep. By focussing on your breathing, your mind is not racing on the day’s events, allowing you to fall asleep in a calmer state.
Apparently, you can cut the chance of catching a cold by a third by gargling with water when you get up in the morning. The water washes out the bugs from your mouth. Thyme tea, sipped, can strengthen the mouth’s lining and your throat against infections.
T-cells – there they are again – react to the blue light in sunlight by triggering a chemical reaction within the T-cells that stimulates their movement. It only needs between 5 and 10 minutes of sunlight for this reaction to take place, so maybe getting out into the open air in your lunch hour could help.
The feeling of loneliness is bad for immunity by causing the white blood cells to be released from the bone marrow too early. Cells that are released too early are too immature to be as effective at fighting off infections – so making time to see friends and family, being with people can help reduce the feeling of being alone and therefore help your immune system.
None of the suggestions mentioned here are particularly difficult or onerous, so it should be possible to incorporate some, if not all, in your lifestyle.
The human body is amazing; you only get one so it pays to look after it, so that it can look after you.
So look after it!