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Strengthening Natural Immunity

Simple lifestyle choices to keep you feeling good this year

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Strengthening Natural Immunity

Fighting off germs isn’t easy. That’s why we enlisted the help of masks, sanitizing, and social distancing as an extra line of defense against COVID-19. But after last year’s record-low flu season, and two years of pandemic health protocols, some experts are concerned that we may be at higher risk for cold, flu, and other viruses this season. Lisa Osborne, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia says, “There is always room for concern with influenza season … independent of what happened last year.” There are simple things we can do to keep our immune systems strong, though. As Osborne says, they come down to listening to what your mother told you growing up: “Activity, healthy diet, sunlight when you can get it. We know these are critical factors for mental health as well as physical health and supporting immune function.” Osborne also strongly encourages vaccination.

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You are what you eat

Healthy immunity starts on your plate. Focus on whole grains, fresh produce in an array of colours, and healthy proteins such as nuts and seeds to help your body produce infection-fighting white blood cells.

Go easy on oils and high-fat foods because, over time, they can suppress white blood cells and affect the gut bacteria that’s so important for immune function. Instead, opt for low-fat dairy and lean proteins like chicken, turkey, and seafood.

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Get moving

Regular, moderate physical activity bolsters the immune system and its ability to fight off illnesses, including cold and flu viruses.

According to the World Health Organization, adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise each week, with two sessions of strength training for best overall health.

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Get some sleep

We’ve all experienced feeling groggy after a poor night’s sleep, but prolonged lack of sleep takes its toll on the immune system and can leave us feeling a lot worse.

A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least seven hours of sleep each night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, set a consistent schedule, and avoid screens, alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bed. If worry is keeping you awake, keep a notebook beside your bed to clear your head.

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Tackle stress

Although short-term stress can support certain immune responses, long-term stress packs a laundry list of damaging health effects. Too much stress can disturb your immune response and lower your protection against infectious illnesses. To help lighten the load try meditation, yoga, or any form of movement.

Is laughter the best medicine?

As it turns out, a good chuckle releases neuropeptides that strengthen the immune system by combatting stress and illnesses.

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Prioritize your social life

If you’re feeling lonely, the good news is, well, you’re not alone. One US survey found that nearly half the respondents sometimes or always felt alone. The bad news is, perceived social isolation has been linked to impaired immunity and a whole host of other health issues.

To combat loneliness, create and maintain meaningful social connections, stay in touch with loved ones, say yes to activities you enjoy, volunteer, or participate in book clubs or community groups.

Top up with supplements

vitamin Cmay help prevent and treat systemic and respiratory infections and help shorten colds
vitamin Dmay help reduce the incidence of cold and flu, help control infections, and reduce inflammation
magnesiumplays a key role in keeping the immune system strong
zinchelps the immune system fight infections and heal wounds
quercetinhelps stimulate the immune system and possesses antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties
elderberriesmay reduce inflammation, lessen stress, and ease symptoms or reduce duration of cold and flu symptoms
oil of oreganohas antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties

The immune system: a two-part puzzle

Innate immunity is the first line of defense, comprised of protective barriers such as skin, mucus, and stomach acid.

Adaptive or acquired immunity learns to recognize the bad guys, creating antibodies, and building an army of immune cells specifically designed to defeat the foreign substance. This system incorporates bone marrow, lymph nodes, the spleen, and thymus, among other cells and organs.

This article was originally published in the January 2021 issue of alive.

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