It’s a story we’re hearing over and over this winter. Illness strikes a home and before long it’s multiple symptoms and many long days—even weeks—of sickness. Not to mention the missed days of school and work. The fatigue and compounding stress that accompany this cycle are exhausting—and make us more susceptible to illness. It leaves us wondering how we can support our immune system, swiftly manage current symptoms, and fight off future ones. We can’t boost our immune system. But we can support it through diet, probiotics, exercise, and other lifestyle choices.
When it comes to diet and immunity, there’s not a magic food that prevents illness. It’s about a broad, balanced diet full of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that work together to maintain a strong system. A colorful, antioxidant-rich diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains fight free radicals (pro-inflammatory molecules that contribute to disease). Additionally, while Dry January may be over, it’s worth noting that alcohol consumption weakens the immune system.
Seventy percent of our immune system is located within our gut. Maintaining a healthy gut begins by supporting a robust microbiome, which includes both good and bad bacteria. Good gut bacteria are lost over time due to stress, gastrointestinal disruptions, and more. To offset this, seek sources of probiotics from fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, or Guiding Stars rated kefir and kombucha. The good news? When you’re consuming an “immune system-supporting” diet of fruits, vegetables, and grains, you’re also getting prebiotic-rich fiber. Think of prebiotics as “food” for good gut bacteria, enabling the microbiome to flourish and support our immune system.
The research is mixed on whether or not targeted supplementation at the first sign of cold symptoms is beneficial. We know excessive supplements can be wasteful, and often unnecessary. In the case of water-soluble vitamin C, for example, excess is quickly excreted. Supplements can also interact with medications and affect you in unexpected ways. If you take them regularly, be sure to let your doctor know.
There is plenty of research that highlights the role exercise plays in supporting a strong immune system. Exercise fights bacteria, boosts our defenses, and helps manage stress. Investigators have found that exercise even strengthens our immune system to lessen the effects of COVID-19. The standard recommendation is moderate to vigorous exercise for 30-60 minutes several days a week. Be sure to take rest days too!
It’s not surprising that there’s a connection between stress and lowered immunity. And it certainly makes sense that a stressed body is a weak one. Daily mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga are all beneficial ways to control stress. Try any of these apps to help stress-relieving activities become part of your daily routine in no time.