The immune system is the body’s natural defense network. It is comprised of many organs, cells, and proteins that work together to protect against outside viruses, bacteria, and other unwanted invaders.
When functioning correctly, the immune system identifies which cells are yours and which are foreign. It then organizes to kill any invaders that could cause the body harm. Your immune system does this complex work naturally, but, like anything, it requires a healthy environment in order to thrive. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help bolster your immune system.
A healthy lifestyle is especially important during the colder months since this tends to be when the immune system is the most vulnerable. In the fall and winter, we spend more time indoors in close quarters with others, increasing the spread of viruses. Some viruses tend to live longer in cooler weather and low humidity.
If you want to prepare for winter by supporting your immune system as best you can, keep reading.
5 Ways to Support Your Immune Health
Here are five key ways you can keep your immune system functioning properly every day.
1 – Diet & Supplements
Your diet plays a large role in many aspects of your health, including the immune system. Often, people assume that simply eating an orange or taking a vitamin C tablet will prevent the onset of a cold. However, this is not the case. Supporting the immune system means consistently eating a healthy and balanced diet over time. This way, your body is nourished and prepared to fight against invaders when necessary. Your immune system is generally best fed by the vitamins and minerals found in food, but high-quality supplements are often beneficial for those who need more robust support or suffer with poor nutrient absorption.
Immune-supporting vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to incorporate into your diet include:
- Vitamin C is critical in supporting the multiple cellular functions of the immune system.* Citrus fruits are a great way to get Vitamin C, but it is also found in spinach, kale, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, strawberries, and papayas.3
- Vitamin E is a part of almost 200 biochemical reactions in your body and plays a large role in immune support.* Vitamin E can be found in plant foods that are high in fat, such as almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, and hazelnuts.
- Vitamin A is an immune-supportive nutrient found in animal foods, like fish, meat, and dairy, and in plant carotenoids.* Eat foods like tuna, carrots, sweet potato, and pumpkin for vitamin A.
- Vitamin D, or the “sunshine vitamin,” is one of the most powerful nutrients for immune functioning.* Although its food sources are limited, eating salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fortified milk provides vitamin D. Supplementing with vitamin D can be a good option if you struggle to get adequate sun exposure, though be sure to speak with an experienced practitioner first about which one is right for you.
- Iron plays a role in many immune system functions by carrying oxygen to blood cells.* Your body absorbs heme iron found in animal products most easily; this includes red meat, chicken, turkey, and oysters. While vegetarians may need to supplement iron, non-heme iron can also be found in plant foods such as beans, broccoli, and kale.
- Functional mushrooms have been used for thousands of years due to their medicinal and immune-supportive properties.* Some of the most popular are reishi mushrooms to support sleep and help manage stress, two crucial aspects of immune functioning.* Cordyceps are also well known for their traditional use in Chinese medicine for enhancing energy and vitality, and supporting the immune system. 4
A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals will help ensure your immune system works efficiently. Drinking enough water is an important aspect of this, as water carries oxygen to the cells and helps remove toxins from the body.5
2 – Getting Good Sleep
Sleep is a crucial aspect of healthy immune functioning. While you are sleeping, your body produces cytokines, which are necessary parts of the immune system that respond to infection, inflammation, and stress. Getting insufficient sleep means your body is less able to produce cytokines, and when a threat appears, your immune system may struggle to ward it off. 6
Most adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and proper sleep hygiene can help ensure you are reaching this threshold. If you are lacking sleep, try implementing these habits:
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bed.
- Put away electronic devices at least two hours before bedtime.
- Ensure the atmosphere in your bedroom is comfortable and temperate.
3 – Lowering Stress
When we are under stress, our stress hormones suppress the number of immune cells available to us. A stressful lifestyle can also indirectly harm the immune system if it causes you to drink and smoke for relief.
There are much better, healthier ways you can manage the stress in your life and keep your immune system running in top shape:
- Make time for relationships. Having a social support system helps people cope with the stress of life and improves self-esteem. 7
- Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations.
- Practice mindfulness, meditation, or yoga.
- Set aside time in your day to relax and unwind.
- Make time for daily movement or exercise.
4 – Physical Activity
Daily movement is not just for strengthening your muscles; it can strengthen your immune system, too!
Studies have found that people who exercise regularly may have fewer cases of infections, and if they do get sick, may experience lessened symptoms and intensity. 8 This is because moderate exercise stimulates the circulation of immune cells in our body.9 When these immune cells are readily available, your body is better equipped to defend against future infection.
Exercise also has the effect of helping lower stress, which is key to a healthy immune system. And, getting a beneficial amount of activity doesn’t have to be a big commitment requiring a gym membership. Taking at least a 30-minute walk every day is enough to keep your immune system functioning properly.9 You can also try:
- Strength training
If you live in a cold climate or don’t have access to a gym, do not fret! There are plenty of at-home yoga or workout classes online that can keep you active.
5 – Avoid Toxins
If you are a smoker or someone who drinks excessively, you are at a much greater risk of getting sick.
Smoking compromises the immune system’s balance, increasing your risk of infection or autoimmune disorders. Alcohol has similar adverse effects on the immune system — it disrupts the pathways that defend against infection.
Heavy drinking also contributes to organ damage and slows down the recovery process after illness or injury.
We recommend quitting smoking and practicing moderation when you drink. For every alcoholic beverage you consume this holiday season, pair it with a glass of water!
Support Your Immune System Daily
Having a healthy lifestyle is vital to having a healthy immune system. It is always best to be proactive with your health, so try some of these tips to ensure your immune system is functioning at its best.
For further help & to discuss a tailored action plan to help keep your body functioning at its best, give us a call.
Stay Healthy & Strong!
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Goodwin, Meredith. “The Immune System: Cells, Tissues, Function, and Disease.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320101.
- Hobday RA, Dancer SJ. Roles of sunlight and natural ventilation for controlling infection: historical and current perspectives. J Hosp Infect. 2013 Aug;84(4):271-82. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2013.04.011. Epub 2013 Jun 20. PMID: 23790506; PMCID: PMC7132476.
- “8 Vitamins for an Immune System Boost.” Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, August 3, 2021. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/.
- Beaty, Josh. “Why Functional Mushrooms? Nuliv Science Blog.” NuLiv Science, January 6, 2022. https://nulivscience.com/why-functional-mushrooms/.
- Ibrainch. “Why Water Is Essential for a Strong Immune System.” Culligan Water, March 24, 2020. https://www.culligan.com/blog/why-water-is-essential-for-a-strong-immune-system.
- Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019 Jul 1;99(3):1325-1380. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2018. PMID: 30920354; PMCID: PMC6689741
- “How Does Stress Affect the Immune System?” UMMS Health, December 1, 2020. https://health.umms.org/2020/11/10/stress-immune-system/.
- Da Silveira, Matheus Pelinski, Kimberly Kamila da Silva Fagundes, Matheus Ribeiro Bizuti, Édina Starck, Renata Calciolari Rossi, and Débora Tavares de Resende E Silva. “Physical Exercise as a Tool to Help the Immune System against COVID-19: An Integrative Review of the Current Literature.” Clinical and experimental medicine. Springer International Publishing, February 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7387807/. \
- Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. J Sport Health Sci. 2019 May;8(3):201-217. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2018.09.009. Epub 2018 Nov 16. PMID: 31193280; PMCID: PMC6523821.