How to strengthen your immune system naturally.
Constantly learning, adapting, and working, your immune system is your body’s everyday champion over the harmful substances and germs that cause infection. Like all other systems in your body, your immune system doesn’t operate in isolation and is inextricably linked to your overall health and fitness.
As a bonus, your efforts to strengthen your immune system also bolster your physical and mental well-being, and may be especially protective as we enter cold and flu season, and continue to counteract against COVID-19. Along with maintaining social distance, masking up, and practicing proper hygiene, here are 5 ways you can boost your immune system naturally for improved health all throughout the year.
1. Get serious about sleep hygiene.
If you want to support strong immunity and productivity, a full night’s sleep is absolutely key. When you sleep, your immune system produces protective proteins called cytokines, which stave off infection and inflammation and enable you to get the rest you need. A lack of shut eye inhibits your body’s ability to produce cytokines, along with infection-fighting antibodies. Sleeping for less than six hours a night is associated with a greater likelihood of coming down with an infection and can make it more difficult for your body to fight it.
To keep your immune system functioning optimally, aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every single night and supplement with one or two 30-minute naps if you’re not getting a full night in.
2. Reduce and manage stress daily.
Though your body is built to respond to stress, it’s simply not designed to be stressed out all the time. During a challenge, thrill, or threat (called acute stress), your body prepares to protect itself by stimulating the immune system to prevent infections and heal wounds. Once the event has passed, your body dials down its immune response and goes back to its work of digestion, repair, and relaxation. However, if you constantly feel like you’re up against challenges or threats (called chronic stress), your immunoprotective response will get overly taxed. Along with making you more vulnerable to viral infections, chronic stress can exacerbate inflammation, increase the amount of time it takes you to recover from injury or illness, and shrink the part of your brain that’s responsible for higher thinking, learning, memory, and reason (called the prefrontal cortex).
Stress and feeling overworked or out of control often go hand-in-hand. While you may not always be able to reduce your demands or control what’s happening around you, you can implement small actions to relieve stress daily, like going for a walk or jog, meditation, deep breathing, reducing caffeine and screen time, and prioritizing high quality sleep.
3. Move your body.
An active lifestyle is one of the best things you can do for your immune system and the health of your entire body. Along with optimizing the health and function of your immune, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems, routine exercise promotes high-quality sleep, quells stress and anxiety, enhances creativity, elevates mood, increases self-confidence and awareness, and sharpens your focus and memory.
To make exercise part of your routine, consider a time of day when you have some time for yourself or when you tend to feel motivated, energized, or ready to blow off some steam. If you feel too tired by the end of your work day, for instance, you may consider adding in movement to your morning or during your lunch break. Or you might give yourself permission to be spontaneous with short movement breaks.
4. Eat your nutrients.
There really is something to the adage “you are what you eat.” Along with the well-known and desirable benefit of maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease, a balanced diet of real foods helps prevent age-related cognitive decline, supports emotional regulation, and ensures proper immune function.
To support your immune system and the health of your brain and body, focus on eating colorful foods and healthy fats that have been minimally processed, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, fish, nonhydrogenated oils, and unprocessed meat. You may also consider adding herbs and supplements, such as zinc, echinacea, and Vitamin C. While these herbs and supplements don’t replace a balanced diet or offer any guarantees, evidence suggests they may help support your overall immune health and function.
5. Tend to your oral hygiene.
Though your teeth and gums may not be the obvious place to focus on your immunity, the state of your oral health can directly impact your immune system. While healthy oral tissues don’t ask anything of your immune system, an abscessed tooth or periodontal disease demand that your immune system constantly battles against the bacteria that’s causing oral disease.
An abscessed tooth refers to a tooth root that’s become infected due to decay, trauma, or breaks that have been left untreated. Along with causing pain, the infection can spread to your jaw and other areas of your mouth, head, or neck. In the most severe cases, an abscessed tooth can trigger life-threatening sepsis.
Periodontal (gum) disease is an inflammatory condition that occurs when too much bacteria builds up on the surface of your teeth. Along with demanding your immune system constantly respond to infection, periodontal disease is associated with several serious health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, poor pregnancy outcomes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
To prevent taxing your immune system unnecessarily, keep oral hygiene high on your list of priorities. Along with brushing and flossing twice daily, visit the dentist every six months for preventative cleanings, and don’t wait to be seen if you know or suspect you have tooth damage, decay, or gum disease.
At Duvall Dental Center, we’re committed to helping you achieve your best overall health through your best oral health. To keep your smile healthy and immune system functioning optimally, contact our office to schedule an appointment today.