Your immune system is built to fight off germs. The healthier you are, the better it works. An immune system that’s functioning properly can help ward off colds and flu as well as protect you from chronic and serious diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer.
Here are some simple ways you can boost your immunity during cold and flu season — and all year long.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. You should get most of your vitamins and nutrients from unprocessed foods. Foods high in vitamin C and antioxidants are especially important for strengthening your immune system. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C — especially citrus fruits (like oranges), dark green leafy vegetables (like spinach), and cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cabbage). Deeply colored fruits and vegetables, like carrots, blueberries, and spinach, are high in antioxidants.
- Manage your stress. While short-term stress (like public speaking) can temporarily boost your immune system, chronic stress (like caring for a spouse with dementia) weakens it. Over months and years, stress takes its toll on your immune system. So, people who are older or already in poor health are likely to get sicker from stress-related changes. Anything you can do to manage everyday stressors can help. A short time set aside for guided meditation, prayer, journaling, or simply sitting outside with a cup of herbal tea can help you feel calm.
- Develop good sleep habits. During sleep, your breathing and muscle activity slow down, freeing up energy for the immune system to function. Consistent, deep sleep is best. So make sleep a priority and follow good sleep habits — put your phone away at least an hour before bedtime and keep your bedroom dark and cool. Sticking to a consistent sleep schedule also helps you sleep more soundly, so try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Supplement when necessary. Your body needs certain nutrients, like vitamin D, to fight off foreign organisms like germs. In some parts of the country, it’s hard to get enough vitamin D from sunshine, especially in the winter. Check with your doctor to see if you should take a vitamin D supplement year round.
- Get physical. Exercise keeps your bones strong, lowers your risk of heart disease, and helps you manage your weight. Doctors believe it also boosts immunity, possibly by helping to flush bacteria from your lungs and airways or by causing changes in antibodies and white blood cells. So find a form of workout you like to do — walk, bike, do yoga, or swim several times a week. Bonus: Exercise is also a great stress-buster.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can affect how your body works, including how your immune system functions. Obesity (a body mass index of more than 30 in adults) can lead to inflammation, which may weaken your immune responses. Obesity has been linked to weakened immune responses to COVID-19, H1N1 influenza, and surgical site infections.
- Wash your hands frequently. Washing your hands doesn’t technically boost your immune system. But it can prevent you from getting sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections, like colds. Germs from unwashed hands can get into food and drinks — and onto objects like doorknobs and handrails. From there, they are passed on to other people. Washing your hands frequently is an effective — and easy — way to strengthen your immunity. Another related tip: Try not to touch your face. That’s how germs from your hands spread to your mouth, eyes, and nose and make you sick.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist about maintaining a healthy immune system. Following these tips is a good start. You’re not only likely to have a strong immune system; you’ll be healthier overall.