Six tips to help you stay healthy and boost your immune system

April 11, 2022

Primary Care Wellness Healthy Aging
Dressing fresh organic vegetables salad with olive oil

You’ve heard the advice: One of the best ways to fight flu, COVID-19, pneumonia, shingles and other diseases is to get your vaccines. But let’s say you’ve done that. What else can you do to help ward off illness?

“Beyond vaccines, the best way to stay well is to live a healthy lifestyle. Healthy routines enhance your body’s immune system,” says Samantha R. Verser, a Family Nurse Practitioner at Riverside Hayes Medical Center. “And that’s important because the purpose of your immune system is to protect your body from infection and disease – everything from cold and flu to cancer and other serious conditions.” 

Read on to learn six ways to live a healthy lifestyle and boost your immune system.

1) Eat nutritious foods

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we need a wide variety of nutrients to help our body function properly. Vitamins A, C, D and zinc are vital to support the immune system’s fight against bacteria and viruses. You can get these nutrients by eating a diet that focuses on nutritious foods, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables (leafy greens, plus fruits and vegetables of all colors)
  • Lean meat and seafood 
  • High-fiber foods (whole grains, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds and wheat germ)
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese and egg yolks) 

Limit foods that contain:

  • Saturated fats
  • Cholesterol
  • Salt
  • Added sugars 

If you think you aren’t getting enough nutrients, talk with your healthcare provider before taking supplements, says Ms. Verser. Too much of any vitamins or minerals can be harmful in some cases.

2) Be active – every day 

If you exercise each day, chances are you’ll maintain a healthy weight, feel better and sleep well. Regular physical activity also strengthens the heart, builds strong bones and reduces stress.

Research suggests that physical activity also boosts your immune system. Here are a few theories: 

  • Physical activity helps flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways, which can reduce your risk of getting a cold or flu.
  • The brief rise in body temperature during and after workouts may prevent bacteria from growing and help your body fight infection. 
  • Exercise also slows down the risk of stress hormones. Fewer stress hormones may reduce your risk of illness. 

How much should you exercise? The CDC offers these guidelines: 

  • Your preschoolers should enjoy physical activity each day while playing.
  • Older children and teenagers should get 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day through play (Including running and activities that strengthen bones and muscles).
  • Adults should get about three hours of moderately intense activity each week, such as brisk walking. They should also strengthen muscles with weights and exercises. 

“Pick an activity that you enjoy – whether it’s walking, swimming, pickleball, dancing, organized sports or gardening,” says Ms. Verser. “It’s important to move your body. Any exercise is better than none.” 

3) Keep your weight at a safe level

Obesity may increase inflammation in the body, and that inflammation reduces your immune system’s ability to fight disease. Being seriously overweight can also reduce the effectiveness of certain vaccines – such as flu, hepatitis and tetanus. To keep your weight at a healthy number, try to eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly.   

4) Sleep well 

Too little sleep can interfere with your immune system and lead to a wide variety of disorders. One study found that people who got only four hours of sleep had reduced activity of the cells that play an important role in killing tumor cells. As a result, poor sleep may increase the risk of cancer and viral infections. Researchers also think sleep loss:

  • Produces inflammation in the body leading to cardiovascular and metabolic disorders 
  • Reduces production of antibodies, which increases the risk for infection

Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep for good health. Children and teens need even more. 

5) Stop smoking and limit alcohol

Smoking hurts the body’s immune system and makes it difficult to fight colds, flu and serious disease. According to the CDC, people who smoke also risk autoimmune disorders where the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. Excessive alcohol reduces your body’s ability to fight infection, too, increasing the risk of complications if you get sick. 

6) Try to reduce stress and anxiety

Feeling stressed? The American Psychological Association reports that stress weakens the immune system. Over time, stress can reduce your body’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses. As a result, people who suffer long-term stress may get sick more often. To reduce stress:

  • Take a walk or enjoy another physical activity.
  • Limit time spent watching the news and social media.
  • Carve out time for yourself. Read. Listen to music. Call a friend. 
  • Try meditation, prayer or wellness apps.
  • Reduce clutter around the home.
  • Ask friends or family for support.

If you’re ready to learn more about boosting your immune system, talk to a skilled provider like Ms. Verser. Together, you can find ways to keep you and your family healthy. 

To make an appointment with Ms. Verser, or another Riverside provider, please schedule an appointment.

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