With one snow already under our belt in Colorado, it’s easy to skip fall and start thinking ahead to the winter season - and how to bolster our immune system as the days get shorter.
In reality, having a healthy immune system is a year-round asset in ensuring your optimum health and wellness. That’s why it’s so important to take steps to support our immune system and response - it’s basically our natural defense to all the risky crap we encounter touching surfaces and even breathing air in our daily lives.
1. Wash your hands.
While we all say we wash our hands thoroughly each time we use the restroom and before meals, this is definitely something we got a major reminder of this year alongside COVID. It’s one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs if you’re actually washing for a good 20 seconds. You might try singing a couple of verses of your favorite song or repeating an affirmation - which actually leads us to our next tip.
2. Practice positive thinking.
You’ve likely heard the phrase, “the power of positive thinking,” but can thinking kind thoughts actually impact your immune system?
It’s possible. After all, your mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. We’ve already explored in-depth how a gratitude practice can actually rewire your brain. But there are additional studies that support the idea that positive thinking is a positive thing for your body, too. Experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine found that positive thinkers were less likely than “negative” people to have a heart attack, even with risk factors present, and another study found that smiling reduced blood pressure in stressful situations.
So take some time to call out a few things you’re grateful for today. We are all about keeping things transparent and “no filter,” but we’re not asking you to tell yourself falsehoods. Just to stop and notice a few things you appreciate about the day, your surroundings, or yourself. Even if they’re small, even if it takes a while to think of something, it can really make a difference! And, at the very least, it isn’t going to hurt.
3. Manage stress levels.
In 2020? Easier said than done, we know.
It’s no secret that stress can negatively impact your body’s immune response levels. And yet, for most of us, it seems entirely unavoidable - especially during a year where our surge capacity has come and gone. But learning to manage stress with mindfulness activities or other things that help you feel grounded is one surefire way to support your overall health and wellness, including your immune system.
Pro tip: The positive thinking we just mentioned can actually be a great way to manage your stress level. That’s right - being thankful can actually help mitigate your stress!
4. Get your zzzs.
Getting enough sleep is essential for good health, and a lack of sleep can have a direct effect on weakening your immune system. Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough of it are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep inhibits our immune system response, especially for things such as fever response, which is typically better when we’re sleeping, and can actually extend the amount of time it takes you to recover from being sick. Infection-fighting antibodies and cells are also reduced for those who haven’t been getting enough sleep.
A proper night of sleep looks different for each person but, generally, you can count on about 7-8 hours per night typically being ideal for adults, while teenagers are better off with nine or 10 and school-aged children usually looking for a minimum of 10 hours.
5. Say hello to your gut.
The gastrointestinal system has a major role in immune system homeostasis and actually has a massive amount of immune cells within it. Gut-associated lymphoid tissue actually represents almost 70 percent of the entire immune system; basically, a lot of your immune system is in your gut.
Say hello to a healthy guy - and support a healthy immune system - by ensuring your diet includes whole-plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes, which are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Antioxidants help combat unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels. Fiber helps support your gut microbiome (the healthy gut bacteria we like).
You may even want to consider adding fermented foods like sauerkraut or probiotics to your diet, which can further help balance your gut. Having a strong network of good gut bacteria can even help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful bacteria or viruses.
6. Focus on nutrient intake.
We’re going to keep the focus on food for a minute. That’s because what you nourish your body with is one of the foundational cornerstones of good health. In addition to making sure your diet makes your gut happy, you can support your immune system by including zinc-rich foods like seafood, mushrooms, lamb, beef and seeds, as well as spinach, broccoli, asparagus, and citrus fruit to get your vitamin C.
You may even want to consider adding a vitamin C or zinc supplement to ensure you’re getting the proper balance of nutrients your body needs.
7. Supplement with vitamin D.
Another supplement you might want to add when looking to bolster your immune system is Vitamin D. It’s a critical fat-soluble vitamin that helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus from your diet. While it can be obtained from some foods and our good ole Mr. Sun, many people may find that adding a Vitamin D supplement to their routine makes it easier to get the amount they need - without having to eat a lot of cod liver or spend an excessive amount of time in the sun.
Research has well-documented how vitamin D3 supports a healthy adaptive and innate immune response, which is critical to maintaining overall health. If you want an even more in-depth look at Vitamin D3 and its relation to your immune response, you can check out our blog All About Vitamin D3.
8. Connect with people (masked or remotely).
This can be a tough one - and may even seem a bit counterintuitive during the Age of COVID. But, done with the proper precautions, socializing can actually be a great immune system booster - especially for older adults. This is in-part because humans are inherently social creatures. But it’s also linked to physiological responses to contact or interactions with another human - a release of neurotransmitters that regulate our response to stress and anxiety.
So go, set up a virtual coffee break, attend a socially-distanced yoga class in the park, or do a contactless gift-basket drop-off at your parents. Give your brain a chance to remember why it’s fun to be a human!
9. Exercise and stay hydrated.
Big surprise: exercise once again makes it into a “good-for-you” listicle.
Regular exercise actually fortifies the immune system by helping with circulation and (oftentimes) promoting better sleep. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous - in fact, gradually introducing or increasing the length or intensity of your existing routine is usually the way to go. Getting your blood flowing not only makes you feel good and sweat out toxins, but it also builds strength and resilience in your body.
Try adding a daily walk, silly dance class, or other movement-based activity to your daily routine. Make sure to keep yourself hydrated, especially before, during and after exercising, but also first thing in the morning. Your 8-hour overnight sleep (good for the immune system) also amounts to an 8-hour water fast (not so good for your immune system). Keeping the body hydrated allows it to make proper, efficient use of its fluids, which means nutrients can be utilized and toxins can be flushed.
10. Practice deep breathing techniques.
This is one of the simplest but perhaps most useful tips in this list - simply because you can take it anywhere. Slow, controlled breathing from the diaphragm, among other deep breathing techniques, is a great way to lower cortisol levels and blood pressure (see “managing stress levels” above), but deep breathing may be linked to a whole host of other benefits. Johns Hopkins is even suggesting deep breathing exercises as a way to help manage COVID-19 recovery. This is because, “deep breathing can help restore diaphragm function and increase lung capacity.”
Here are a few of our favorite deep breathing exercises:
This one is exactly what it sounds like. It’s incredibly simple, and a great introduction for those who are new to breathing exercises.
- Stay present and mindfully observe the quality of your breathing.
- Remain curious and objective, refraining from judging or trying to alter what you notice.
Deep Belly (Diaphragmatic) Breathing
This exercise can be done standing, seated, or even lying down. It’s a great way to strengthen the diaphragm muscle and provide a deeper quality to your breath.
- Place one hand on your chest and one just below your rib cage.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, beginning your breath from the base of your stomach and drawing it up through your torso then chest. Feel your stomach move out against your hand as you breathe, and the expansion of torso on the sides and back body as well.
- Exhale through your nose, deflating the upper chest, middle torso, and finally drawing the navel back toward the spine as you fully exhale.
- Repeat for at least ten quality cycles of breath.
A variation on deep belly breathing, this exercise has you segment each component of your breath into a four-second interval.
- Slowly inhale for a count of four, focusing on your deep belly breath.
- Hold the breath in. Count to four.
- Exhale - chest, torso, lower abdomen - to a count of four.
- Hold the breath out for a count of four.
- Repeat for at least ten quality cycles of breath.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
These next two exercises will likely be familiar to our yogis.
Alternate nostril breathing is an exercise intended to help with relaxation. It’s actually possible to lower your heart rate through this intention breath exercise!
- Bring your right hand in front of your face, palm in.
- Press your first, middle, and ring fingers against your thumb, leaving your pinky and thumb open.
- Plug your right nostril with your thumb.
- Take a deep inhale through your left nostril.
- Plug your left nostril with your pinky, releasing your thumb and exhaling through the right nostril.
- Inhale through the right nostril, then close it again with your thumb.
- Release your pinky and exhale through the left nostril.
- Repeat for anywhere from one to five minutes to begin.
Unlike some of the other breathing techniques in this list, Lion’s Breath is an energizing or uplifting exercise. It might help you release tension, and will almost definitely leave you feeling a bit more charged up and vibrant after a minute or two.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Quickly and forcefully exhale from your diaphragm, opening your eyes and mouth wide and sticking out your tongue. Use a slight contraction of your throat muscles to produce a “ha” sound.
- Repeat this for several cycles of breath, as is comfortable.
What are your favorite ways to support your immune system? Connect with us on social media to let us know!