Learn how to boost your immune system naturally with these tips! From getting enough sleep to fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods, these strategies will help you improve your immunity with simple and sustainable lifestyle changes.
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Wondering how to boost your body’s natural defenses with dietary and lifestyle changes?
When you take care of your body and nourish it from the inside out, you give yourself the best chance for a healthy, well-functioning immune system that can fight off illnesses the way it was designed to do.
So let’s talk about some ways to improve your immunity!
1. Limit your exposure
If you aren’t already, be sure to follow these basic guidelines to help limit your exposure to germs:
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water. Do this before you prepare meals, before you eat, before you touch your face, after each trip to the restroom, after you cough or sneeze, after being in a public place, and after touching animals.
- Avoid touching your face unless you just finished washing your hands for the purpose of touching your face (i.e. to apply makeup, remove contact lenses, etc.)
- Cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow rather than your hands.
- Avoid socializing with people who are sick.
- Clean and disinfect commonly-touched items such as cell phones, TV remotes, computer/gaming accessories, light switches, doorknobs, cabinet and drawer pulls, and faucets.
These best practices will go a long way in limiting your exposure to germs.
But for the times when you can’t help but be exposed to germs, these next few tips will keep your immune system in tip-top shape so you have the best chance for fighting illness.
2. Avoid inflammatory foods.
Inflammation is a normal response of a healthy immune system when your tissues are injured by trauma, toxins, heat, bacteria, or any other injurious cause (Source). This is acute inflammation.
What you don’t want is chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a long-term inflammatory response that can last anywhere from months to years and “presents a major threat to the health and longevity of individuals” (Source). It is considered a major contributor to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Chronic inflammation is no joke, and it’s important to recognize that an immune system in overdrive can eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissues, and organs (Source).
In other words? You want the acute inflammation when you have a specific injury, but you don’t want chronic inflammation that can cause long-term damage.
Did you know that certain foods can actually cause chronic inflammation?
An article from NCBI states that a “diet rich in saturated fat, trans-fats, or refined sugar is associated with higher production of pro-inflammatory molecules” (Source).
Inflammatory foods (foods that are high in saturated fat, trans-fats, and refined sugars) include:
- Animal products such as beef, chicken, pork, hotdogs, sausage, bacon, ham, and deli meats
- Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and butter
- Fried foods
- Refined carbohydrates such as white flour, white sugar, white bread, pizza dough, pasta, white rice, and sugary breakfast cereals
- Other processed foods such as margarine, faux meats, chips, candy, cakes, pastries, and cookies
These are the foods you want to limit or avoid altogether to keep your immune system functioning properly.
3. Eat nutrient-dense foods.
So which foods make the cut? Fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients your body needs.
Try to eat a variety of foods from each of these categories so you get maximum health benefits.
Here are some foods to try from each category:
- Fruit such as apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, grapes, kiwi, mangoes, peaches, pineapple, and watermelon
- Vegetables such as asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onions, potatoes, squash, and zucchini
- Leafy greens such as arugula, collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, spinach, and swiss chard
- Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, 100% whole grain bread, wild rice, and black rice
- Legumes such as black beans, black eyed peas, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, refried beans, and snow peas
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, chia seeds, flaxseed, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts
These foods happen to be the staples of a whole food, plant-based diet, which is a fantastic way of eating for your immune system. If you’d like to give it a try, you can download my free starter guide here.
4. Pamper your gut.
About 70% of your immune system is in your gut (Source), so supplying a good mix of probiotics and prebiotics will keep your gut – and subsequently your immune system – happy.
Probiotics are the good bacteria you need in your gut.
Probiotic-rich foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, coconut yogurt, and tempeh. If you’d prefer to get your probiotics from a beverage, then kombucha and water kefir are fantastic options.
I’ve been brewing water kefir at home for the last few weeks and my family loves it! It tastes like a slightly sweet soda. Here is my tutorial that shows you how to make water kefir:
And these are the kefir grains I bought to make my first batch:
Water kefir grains grow exponentially with each batch of water kefir you make, so you shouldn’t have to buy any more after the initial batch. Your only ongoing cost is sugar to feed the grains and fruit juice to flavor the kefir water. Making your own water kefir is an easy, cost-effective way to get your living probiotics, so I highly recommend it!
Prebiotics are the types of dietary fiber that actually feed the good bacteria. Foods such as beans, whole grains, and fruit are fantastic prebiotics that keep the good bacteria happy, so be sure to eat plenty of them to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
5. Drink plenty of fluids.
Staying hydrated is good for your overall health, and water does a fantastic job of flushing out foreign invaders from your body.
Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day, and more if you sweat heavily from exercise or working outside.
A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water so that your urine is clear to pale yellow.
6. Exercise daily.
Moderate intensity exercise is beneficial for the normal functioning of your immune system (Source).
Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week along with strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times per week (Source). Just 30 minutes of activity each day can easily satisfy this requirement, and you don’t even need to join a gym.
Some good exercise options that don’t require a gym include:
- Doing exercise videos in your living room
7. Get some fresh air.
Close quarters can expose you to all sorts of germs (Source), so get outdoors if you can and fill your lungs with fresh air. You could sit outside on a porch or deck, tend to a garden, go for a walk in your neighborhood, or anything else that lets you breathe in the open air.
If the weather is nice where you live, you can also open some windows and let the fresh air circulate throughout your home.
8. Get plenty of Sleep.
Your immune system is directly affected by your sleep habits.
When you don’t get enough quality sleep, your immune system suffers, you are more susceptible to illness, and you may have a slower recovery time when you do get sick (Source).
So how much is enough sleep? Generally, adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night (Source).
Here are some things you can do to improve your quality of sleep:
- Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and uncluttered
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule (go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day)
- Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime
- Don’t drink caffeine late in the day (my cut-off time is 2:00pm so I can fall asleep around 9:00pm)
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid long naps during the day (20 minutes is usually my limit)
9. Minimize stress.
Stress can come from any number of sources. Jobs, relationships, financial struggles, and over-committed schedules can all contribute to our stress levels. And while we can’t always control the various stressors in our lives, it’s important that we try our best to minimize the amount of stress we feel if we want to boost our immune systems.
You see, chronic stress can suppress our protective immune response (Source). It just isn’t healthy to stay stressed all the time, and doing so can actually diminish your body’s natural defenses.
So what can you do to minimize stress?
Start by eliminating the stressors you can control, like toxic relationships and over-committed schedules. You’re much better off ditching these stressors altogether.
Next, minimize the stressors you can’t eliminate. If your financial situation is causing you stress, learn how to properly manage your money so you don’t stay up at night worrying about it. I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey, and his book The Total Money Makeover is a game-changer.
Lastly, for the stressors you can’t reasonably eliminate or minimize (like your job), find some stress-relieving activities to help you unwind and relax so you deal with stress in a healthy way. Some activities to try are yoga, exercise, reading, sitting quietly in nature, drawing, coloring, and journaling.
10. Nix unhealthy habits.
It should go without saying, but unhealthy habits such as smoking, vaping, using illicit drugs, and consuming excessive amounts of alcohol do nothing but harm your body. If your goal is to have a healthy, well-functioning immune system, then it’s best to nip those unhealthy habits in the bud.
Final Thoughts on How to Boost Your Immune System Naturally
So those are the things you can do to boost your immune system naturally! These simple diet and lifestyle changes will give your body the best chance at staying healthy so you can spend more time doing what you love and less time worrying about unnecessary illness.
If you have any questions or tips you’d like me to add to this list, leave a comment below! I always write back.
Other Healthy Lifestyle Articles You May Enjoy
- 12 Healthy Habits You Can Start Today
- 29 Ways to De-Stress Right Now
- 9 Simple Ways to Stay Active Throughout the Day
- Why We Transitioned to a Mostly Plant-based Lifestyle
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