The immune system is the body’s main defence against organisms that cause diseases. A healthy immune system is key in keeping us from becoming ill. That makes boosting our immune system a worthy goal, but there is still much that remains unknown about how to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that improves immune function. However, that doesn’t mean we should give up on it. There are some things that we know can keep our immune systems working properly. As with every other part of our body, our immune system functions better when we choose healthy lifestyle habits that help protect it from attack by organisms present in our environment.
Among the lifestyle choices that will help promote the health of your immune system are:
• Not smoking
• Eating a healthy diet high in vegetables and fruit
• Limiting alcohol consumption
• Getting regular physical activity
• Maintaining a healthy weight
• Getting enough sleep
• Dealing with stress in a healthy manner
• Practicing careful hygiene to prevent infection (such as frequent hand washing with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who appear to be ill, and cooking meats thoroughly)
• Getting all of the vaccines your healthcare team recommends for you
Diet and immune function
To work properly, the immune system needs nourishment. Scientists believe this is why people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more likely to contract infectious diseases. There also seems to be a connection between nutrition and immune function in the elderly. Our immune response lessens as we age, and older people are more likely to experience what is known as micronutrient malnutrition—a situation in which a person doesn’t get enough of some essential vitamins and trace minerals, either through their diets or from taking supplements. If you suspect that your diet is not providing you with all of the nutrients you need, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may be of benefit, but taking mega doses of a single vitamin will not. If you have questions about whether you should take a supplement or about which supplement would be right for you, our pharmacists are available to advise you.
Stress and immune function
Science has come to recognize how closely the mind and body and linked, but there are still a lot of unknowns. Some researchers are investigating how stress affects the immune system. Most of the research is looking at constant, frequent stressors such as those caused by relationships with family, friends, and coworkers, or sustained career challenges rather than at a sudden, short-lived stressor. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with stress. Consuming alcohol to help you relax is an example of an unhealthy way. Examples of healthy options include meditation, yoga, tai chi, practicing mindfulness, and seeking professional counselling.
Physical activity and immune function
Just as eating a healthy diet contributes to general good health and, therefore, a healthy immune system, so does getting regular physical activity. Following general guidelines for healthy living is the single best thing you can to do strengthen your immune system and safeguard yourself from disease-causing organisms.
Read other articles in our Fall-Winter 2021 volume of our Bettercare magazine here.