There are a lot of products that claim to boost immunity, but healthy habits are actually the best way to support immune function. This includes regularly washing your hands, getting enough sleep and exercising on a regular basis.
These basic steps can improve your overall health and help keep you from getting sick this season.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
Many supplements and products claim to support immune system function. But a healthy immune system is more complex than a simple mix of vitamins and minerals packaged into a pill or powder.
The best way to build up the parts of your immune system that fight germs and illness is to eat a balanced diet, including lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, dairy, lean protein and healthy fats.
Prebiotics, like those found in Jerusalem artichokes, green bananas or plantains, jicama root and asparagus, are also good for your immune system because they feed the bacteria that protect you from infection. Spices such as garlic, turmeric and ginger have long been believed to have immune-boosting properties, too. And don’t skip out on citrus fruits, which are rich in vitamin C, which boosts white blood cells that fight infection.
2. Get Enough Sleep
As the cold and flu season ramps up, your immune system needs to be firing on all cylinders. But it’s not always charged or able to resist infections, especially when you get run down from big and little daily stressors.
Getting enough sleep is key to keeping your immune system strong. Without it, your natural immune cells drop and inflammation cells increase, making you more vulnerable to infection. Adults should aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night to promote healthy functioning.
Staying hydrated is another immune-boosting habit to add to your routine. The body needs water to produce lymph, a substance that carries white blood cells and other immune system components to fight infection. Make sure to hydrate by drinking plenty of water, and also eating hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables.
3. Exercise Regularly
While there is no “cure” for the flu or other illnesses, there are many things you can do to boost your immune system and keep you healthy. A healthful diet, regular exercise, and stress-relieving activities can help bolster your body’s natural defenses against germs.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are essential to a strong immune system, including brightly colored ones like oranges and kiwis that are rich in vitamin C. Leafy greens, sweet potatoes, and carrots are also excellent sources. Add spice to your meals with ginger and garlic, which are both known for their immunity-boosting properties.
Try a 15- to 20-minute at-home workout or a brisk walk around the neighborhood several times per week to get in some light exercise. Avoid alcoholic drinks and smoking, which can negatively affect immune function.
4. Stay Hydrated
Drinking enough fluids is critical to keep the body functioning properly, from regulating temperature and blood pressure to absorbing and eliminating waste. Hydration also primes the lymph system — the immune system’s highway that transports white blood cells to fight off disease-causing germs like bacteria, viruses, parasites and harmful fungi.
Experts recommend drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water or other hydrating liquids each day. If you find it hard to drink enough water, try adding electrolyte powder or using apps that track your water intake, which may inspire you to be more goal-oriented about your fluids.
Your immune system is your first line of defense against germs that cause illness. Think of it as a security system: You want every component to function exactly as it should.
5. Get Enough Vitamins and Minerals
There’s been a lot of buzz about products and supplements that “boost immunity.” But support for a healthy immune system requires more than just a handful of vitamins and minerals packaged together in a pill or powder.
Your immune system works in a delicate balance, with just the right strength and sophistication to keep you safe against infections. The best way to support it is by following basic healthy lifestyle principles.
For instance, whole plant foods — including greens, fruits and beans — offer a variety of immune-boosting vitamins and minerals. Protein, too, supports immune function; try eggs, fish, poultry and nuts. And be sure to get enough vitamin E, which promotes T-cell functions and acts as an antioxidant. Vitamins E and C can be found in vegetables, olive oil, avocado and some nuts.