There are several effective habits that will help you have a healthy and functional immune system and keep disease and infection at bay.
In simple words, the job of your immune system is to keep you healthy and defend you from diseases and external threats. This complex system is made up of cells in your skin, blood, bone marrow, tissues, and organs that work together to protect your body from potentially harmful pathogens (bacteria and viruses), and limit damage from non-infectious agents.
How to empower your immune system?
To better protect your body and perform its function properly, each component of your immune system has to work together exactly according to plan. The best way to make sure that happens is by practicing beneficial habits every day for as long as possible. These are 7 important habits that you should always maintain.
1. Eat a healthy diet
The nutrients you get from food, particularly plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, are essential to keep your immune system working properly. Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight infection.
For example, research shows that spices like cloves, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cumin have antiviral and antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of food-spoiling bacteria like Bacillus subtilis and Pseudomonas fluorescens, harmful fungi like Aspergillus flavus and antibiotic resistant microorganisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, according to a review.
Additionally, the zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12 that you get from the foods you eat are the nutrients your immune system needs to do its job. Each plays a unique role in supporting immune function.
Research suggests, for example, that the deficiency of vitamin C can increase the likelihood of infection. Our bodies do not produce this essential water-soluble vitamin on their own, so we need to obtain it through food (such as citrus fruits, kiwis, and various cruciferous vegetables).
Protein is also extremely important for the health of the immune system. The amino acids in protein help build and maintain immune cells, and skimping on this macronutrient can lower your body's ability to fight infection.
In a study published in February in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, mice eating a diet consisting of only 2 percent protein were more severely affected by the flu than mice eating a "normal" protein diet. with 18 percent protein.
But once the researchers began feeding the first group normal levels of protein, the mice were able to shed the virus.
When it comes to a diet that promotes good immune health, try to focus on incorporating more plants and plant-based foods. Add fruits and vegetables to your soups and stews, smoothies and salads, or eat them as a snack.
Carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, citrus fruits (such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines), and strawberries are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, while seeds and nuts they will provide protein, vitamin E and zinc.
2. Implement methods to manage stress
According to a review published in the October issue of Current Opinion in Psychology, long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. The body relies on hormones such as cortisol during short-term episodes of stress (when your body enters a "fight or flight" response); Cortisol has a beneficial effect as it prevents the immune system from responding before the stressful event is over (so your body can react to the immediate stressor).
But when cortisol levels are consistently high, they essentially block the immune system so it won't kick in and can't protect the body against potential threats like viruses and bacteria.
There are many effective techniques to reduce stress; The key is to find the one that works for you. The most recommended are meditation, writing in a journal and doing whatever activity you enjoy (such as fishing, playing golf, or drawing).
Try to do at least one stress-reducing activity every day. Do you lack time? Start small. Take five minutes sometime each day to have fun and relax, and start building up the time when you can.
3. Get enough good quality sleep
Your body heals and regenerates while you sleep, this makes getting enough sleep critical for a healthy immune response.
To be more specific, sleep is a time when your body produces and distributes immune cells such as cytokines (a type of protein that can fight or promote inflammation), T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates the immune response) and interleukin 12 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine).
When you don't get enough sleep, your immune system may not do these things either, making it less able to defend your body against harmful invaders and increasing your chance of getting sick.
A study published in the Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that, compared to healthy young adults who had no trouble sleeping, healthy young adults with insomnia were more susceptible to the flu even after getting vaccinated.
Lack of sleep also raises cortisol levels, which of course is also not good for immune function. As a result, our immune systems become weak and we tend to have fewer reserves to fight or recover from illness.
It is generally recommended that all adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night to optimize their health. To ensure quality sleep, prioritize good sleep hygiene: turn off electronic devices at least two or three hours before going to bed and avoid violent or stressful conversations or books.
4. Get regular exercise (outdoors, when possible)
By exercising regularly, you will be reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases (such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease), as well as viral and bacterial infections.
The exercise also increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure), making it an excellent way to manage stress. Since stress negatively affects our immune system, this is another way that exercise can enhance the immune response.
Studies that have looked at how exercise affects the body at the cellular level suggest that periods of physical activity can make your immune system more vigilant by distributing immune cells throughout the body to look for damaged or infected cells.
At a minimum, try to adhere to the physical activity guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults should get at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking, jogging or biking) or 75 minutes (one hour and 15 minutes) of high intensity aerobic exercise (such as running) weekly. You should also implement strength training at least twice a week.
For even more benefits for the immune system, exercising outside is also recommended. Spending time in nature has been shown to boost mood, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and support a healthy immune system.
Sunlight also increases the body's production of vitamin D, which plays a key role in immune health.
5. Drink alcohol in moderation
Drinking large amounts of alcohol is associated with a variety of negative health effects, including decreased immune function. When you drink large amounts of alcohol, your body is too busy trying to detoxify your system to bother with maintaining normal immune system function.
According to a review published in the journal Alcohol Research, high levels of alcohol consumption can weaken your body's ability to fight infection and delay your recovery time. As a result, people who drink large amounts of alcohol face a higher chance of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, alcoholic liver disease and certain types of cancer, according to the same review.
If you're not drinking yet, don't start. If you drink occasionally, limit your alcohol consumption to one drink (equivalent to a 120 ml glass of wine) per day if you are a woman, and two drinks per day if you are a man.
6. Don't smoke cigarettes
Like alcohol, smoking can also affect immune health. Actually, anything that is toxic can compromise your immune system.
In particular, the chemicals released by cigarette smoke - carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides, and cadmium - can interfere with the growth and function of immune cells, such as cytokines, T cells, and B cells.
According to these studies, smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections (especially those of the lungs, such as pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis), post-surgical infections, and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints.).
If you currently smoke, there are many resources available to help you quit, including counseling, nicotine replacement products, prescription drugs that do not contain nicotine, and behavioral therapy.
7. Keep symptoms of chronic conditions under control
Chronic conditions like asthma, heart disease, and diabetes can affect the immune system and increase the risk of infections.
For example, when people with type 2 diabetes do not adequately control their blood sugar, this can create a chronic low-grade inflammatory response that weakens the body's defense system. Likewise, people with asthma are more susceptible to getting the flu, and even dying, and they often experience flu and asthma symptoms as a result of the infection.
When you live with a chronic illness, when you get sick with a virus, for example, your body will need more effort than normal to be able to recover.
By better managing your chronic conditions, you will have more reserves with which to help your body fight infections. So make sure you stay on top of any medications, your doctor visits, and healthy habits that keep your symptoms at bay. Your immune system will thank you.
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