By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden
When it comes to fighting viruses, there are plenty of things you can do to give your immune system a boost. Aside from frequent hand washing and socially distancing yourself, you can help improve your immune system’s ability to fight off viruses by incorporating simple practices into your daily routine. Let’s look at five immune-boosting practices you can incorporate right now.
1. Prioritize Your Sleep
Getting adequate sleep is essential for good immune function, but unfortunately, many of us are sorely lacking. To help your immune system thrive, I recommend getting at least seven, preferably eight, hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body churns out the stress hormone, cortisol, to keep you awake and alert. And stress — whether physical, emotional, or psychological — suppresses your immune system.
Need proof? According to a study published in the journal, “Sleep,” people who got adequate shut-eye were four times less likely to fall ill after viral exposure than those who slept fewer than six hours per night.
2. Incorporate Physical Activity Into Your Day
People who exercise at least five days a week have nearly half the risk of getting sick than sedentary individuals. So how much physical activity should you get?
If you’re new to exercise, I recommend starting slowly. Take a 20- to 30-minute walk, go for a bike ride, hit the golf course, play tennis — do whatever you enjoy. Just make sure you get your body moving at least a few times per week.
If you’re accustomed to exercise, I recommend sticking with your normal routine, provided you’re feeling healthy. You don’t have to incorporate more exercise to boost your immune system — taking that route can do more harm than good.
Although exercise’s long-term effect on lowering cortisol is well established, physical activity temporarily increases cortisol output and oxidative stress on the body. So if you overdo exercise, you overstress the immune system, and that’s especially true if you exercise too hard when you’re feeling under the weather.
3. Practice Good Nutrition
Eighty percent of your immune system exists inside your gut, which means eating healthy and staying hydrated are two of the most effective things you can do to boost your immunity.
What does a healthy diet look like? I recommend following a Mediterranean style of eating, which incorporates plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains. Centering your diet around these foods gives your body substantial amounts of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for healthy immune function.
Below are some more food recommendations:
- Herbs and roots.Basil, thyme, oregano, astragalus, garlic, summer savory, ginger, and horseradish are well-established, powerful immune system boosters.
- Foods high in vitamin C.Bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, winter squash, and other foods high in vitamin C are well known to boost the immune system.
- Medicinal mushrooms.Cordyceps, Lion’s Mane, Rishi, Shiitake, and chaga mushrooms are highly anti-inflammatory and give the immune system a substantial boost.
Try to stay away from processed foods and excessive amounts of dairy, refined oils, and conventionally produced animal products. These foods increase the toxic load on your body and force your system to focus on detoxing rather than fighting off viral infections.
4. Incorporate Smart Supplementation
To fill in the nutritional gaps in your diet, make sure you’re supplementing with vitamins A, B, C, D, and E to give your immune system what it needs to thrive. A few other immunity-boosting supplements I recommend include:
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
- Liposomal glutathione
- Broad-spectrum probiotics (fermented non-dairy foods are great too!)
- Thymic peptides, including Thymosin alpha-1 and Thymosin beta-4 (these are available by prescription)
Remember that while supplementation is important, you shouldn’t rely on supplements alone to provide the essential nutrients your body requires. Rather, the bulk of the nutrients you ingest should come from the foods you eat.
5. Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress and anxiety increase cortisol levels in your body, and we know cortisol suppresses your immune system. To help mitigate stress-induced cortisol release and give your immune system a boost, do your best to:
- Connect with loved ones and friends.Taking the time to share experiences and connect with others through virtual means can help lower your stress levels.
- Researchers have discovered that meditation modulates immune response. If you already practice meditation, try upping your frequency to two to three times per day.
- Be present and practice gratitude.The body cannot decipher between a present threat and one that exists on the news. Practicing gratitude and being present can dramatically improve your reaction to any situation.
Please remember that no matter what you do to boost your immune system, you should still be following the health and safety recommendations outlined by the CDC. The human body is never invulnerable, so stay safe!