Our daily habits can compromise our immunity, making it harder for our bodies to stay healthy.
Conversely, our healthy daily habits can help keep our immune systems functioning at peak performance.
Some are simple habits and others take dedication and practice. Yet all of these healthy habits are worth making.
Healthy, Immune-Boosting Habits
Recently, we shared signs of a weakened immune system like digestion problems, recurrent infections that require antibiotics, and being stressed or tired all the time. We cannot control some aspects of our immunity like genetics and age.
However, we’re not powerless over our immunity. Many healthy lifestyle choices can bolster the body's ability to protect us. We may not be able to make all these changes overnight, but small improvements add up.
Whether we have signs of a sluggish immune system or we just want to be as healthy as possible, these healthy habits can strengthen immunity.
Practice Good Hygiene
Defending against germs starts by avoiding them. Great handwashing includes at least 20 seconds of washing with soap, getting all parts of the hand, over the wrist, and under the nails. Handwashing is crucial after we use the restroom, sneeze, blow our noses, and touch shared surfaces.
Use Good Food Safety Techniques
Often what we think is a 24-hour bug is really food poisoning. That’s because we cannot see the bacteria on food. Good food safety includes washing fruits, vegetables, and meat before cooking, washing our hands before and after touching raw meat, using separate cutting boards and utensils for meat, and cooking meat thoroughly. Additionally, it’s recommended we only thaw meat in the refrigerator or microwave (not on the counter!)
Eat Foods that Make the Gut Happy
Many fruits and vegetables have vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to function optimally and antioxidants that fight oxidative stress, an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Plus, since over 70% of our immune system is in the gut, a healthy gut microbiome is key.
Gut bacteria need complex carbohydrates and fiber to thrive. Gut bacteria love a diverse buffet of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean or plant-based protein, and natural herbs and spices. These 10 foods are known for their immune-boosting properties. Supplements can also help us get the nutrients, prebiotics, and probiotics that feed the gut microbiome and fuel the immune system.
Researchers are still working to prove how exercise increases our immunity, but they have several sound theories. Exercise may flush bacteria out of the airways, it causes body temperature to rise, which may prevent bacteria from growing, and it slows the release of stress hormones, which may protect against illness.
Additionally, physical activity causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells and increases their circulation, which may help them detect illnesses earlier. While exercise is usually a boon to our immunity, it’s important that we don’t overdo it, which can lead to chronic inflammation. Here are tips on exercising to reduce inflammation and find your sweet spot whether you’re an athlete or a novice.
Go Alcohol-Free for a Month
Alcohol weakens the body's ability to fight infections and makes it harder to heal from illness. Chronic overconsumption and binge drinking both disrupt immune pathways, impair the body’s immunity, slow injury recovery, and contribute to organ damage. The US Centers for Disesase Control and Prevention (CDC) says overconsumption is more than one drink a day for women or two a day for men.
Immediately, alcohol disrupts the integrity of the gut microbiome and its communication with the immune system. Over time, alcohol also contributes to brain degeneration. NOTE: It's not advised that heavy drinkers go cold turkey without help from a health care provicer as alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Help is also available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Both acute and chronic stress affect all the body's systems. While we’re equipped to handle small doses of stress – like narrowly missing a car wreck – long-term stress can cause serious damage to our immunity and our overall health. It’d be great if we could just tell ourselves to “stop stressing” and we would. But that doesn’t typically work. What does work is exercise, eating healthy, and self-care activities like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Breathing exercises calm the nervous system in stressful moments and can teach the nervous system to stay relaxed as stressors arise. These breathing exercises can help reduce our stress levels, free of charge.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
Lack of enough quality sleep can weaken the immune system and immune response, making us more prone to infection and illness and slowing recovery time when we do get sick. Evidence shows that both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation can make us sick. Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night while children and teens may need 10 or more hours.
However, getting sufficient quality sleep can strengthen our natural defenses and have us feeling better and thinking more clearly overnight. Need help getting better sleep? Use these tips from a leading sleep expert to build great sleep habits and reap the benefits.
With these healthy habits, our immune systems have a better ability to stay healthy and strong so we can be well.