Strengthening Your Immune System through Diet, Exercise, Sleep and Stress Management

Every day the body is exposed to invaders ready to wreak havoc on our health.  Taking preventative measures may help protect the immune system from being compromised; strengthening your internal defense system.

Diet

Your diet is one of the most important lines of defense.  Vitamins, minerals, and even protein play a vital role in protecting and strengthening your immune system.

Vitamins and Minerals

Although vitamins and minerals are micronutrients (see Nutrition: Getting Back to the Basics), they can aid the body in preventing disease and infection.

The Food and Drug Administration has a list of vitamins and minerals that includes food sources and the recommended Daily Value.

Protein

Protein helps the body to fight infections and repairs body tissue.

Exercise

Image by Dorthy Castillo

Exercise defends the immune system by:

  • Improving immune system regulation
  • Improving defense activity
  • Acting as anti-inflammatory
  • Increasing blood flow and oxygen throughout the body

Try to do a combination of exercises (aerobics, strength training, stretching, and balancing) at least 30-minutes a day most days of the week.

Sleep

During sleep stages 3 & 4, your body begins to heal and repair itself.  Your immune system may be weakened and compromised if you are not spending enough time in those two stages.  During sleep, cytokines (a type of protein) are released to protect the body from infection and inflammation.

Image by Andrea Piacquadio

Speak with your doctor if you are having trouble sleeping and learn about sleep hygiene.

Stress Management

What happens to some people when they are stressed? They may stress eat, avoid exercising, and have trouble sleeping.  Stress also releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that can harm your body if they are in your system for long periods of time due to chronic stress. Stress is inevitable, but it is possible to manage through practice.

Quick stress-relief tips:

  • Speak with a doctor, counselor, and/or someone you trust
  • Focus on those things you have control over
  • Know your stress triggers and ways to manage them
  • Seek resources for financial help
  • Use short-term distractions
  • Deal with the root issue
  • Exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Practice sleep hygiene
  • Set boundaries
  • Practice deep breathing exercises
  • Set aside at least 5 – 10 minutes for yourself

In addition to sleep, exercise, diet, and stress management, make sure you wash your hands and avoid touching your face as much as possible.

Sources:

[1]. Klemm. S. (2020). Support Your Health With Nutrition. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/support-your-health-with-nutrition

[2]. Myers, A. (2020). What You Need to Know About Vitamin D and Its Impact on Your Immune System. https://www.amymyersmd.com/2016/06/vitamin-d/

[3]. Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Vitamins and Minerals. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/InteractiveNutritionFactsLabel/assets/InteractiveNFL_Vitamins&MineralsChart_March2020.pdf

[4]. Ware, M. & Olsen, N. (2018). How can antioxidants benefit our health? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/301506

[5]. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). 3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/3-vitamins-best-boosting-immunity/

[6]. Hoffman, P. & Berry, M. (2008). The influence of selenium on immune responses. Mol Nutr Food Res. 52(11): 1273-1280. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3723386/

[7]. Nieman, D. & Wentz, L. (2019). The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense system. Journal of Sport and Health Science. Vol 8(3): 201-217. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005

[8]. Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How Sleep Affects Your Immunity. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity

[9]. American Psychological Association. (2006). Stress Weakens the Immune System. https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune

[10]. Morey, J., Boggero, I., Scott, B., & Segerstrom, C. (2016). Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol. 5: 13-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/

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