When it comes to staying healthy, your immune system is your body’s powerhouse. Keeping it strong and healthy through diet and exercise can help you avoid getting sick and feeling tired and rundown all the time. It can even help you prevent getting sick in the first place.
How Your Immune System Works
Your immune system operates as a network and runs throughout your body. It works hard at all times to identify and fight foreign invaders, known as pathogens. When it spots a pathogen, it triggers a response that boosts the number of white blood cells in your body. These are the cells that fight off invaders and keep us healthy.
There are two primary types of immune responses: Innate and adaptive. We’re born with innate immunity. The innate immune system recognizes foreign pathogens and tries to fight them using a generic response and includes our skin, hair, tears, sweat, and other physical barriers. (1)
Your adaptive immune system evolves as you age. It is made up of cellular and chemical responses that recognize familiar pathogens that you have been exposed to either through having an illness or having a vaccine.
How Your Diet Impacts Your Immune System
When your body is sick, it needs energy to fight off infections. Proper nutrition for the immune system includes eating foods that will provide the energy that the immune system needs to fight pathogens and prevent chronic inflammation, which can trigger immune responses. (2)
Here are a few specific things you can do to improve your diet and boost your immune system.
- Cut down on sugar
Sugar can do a lot of harm to our bodies, including causing us to become overweight. Additionally, sugar can prevent immune cells from attacking bacteria as they should. (3) When you have too much sugar, your immune system starts to effectively shut down, which can make you more susceptible to illnesses and less capable of fighting pathogens.
- Eat garlic
People have been eating garlic for medicinal purposes for centuries. It turns out, garlic can improve your immune function and is particularly useful in fighting the common cold or flu. (4) You can add garlic to your meals or take a garlic supplement when you start feeling a cold coming on.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet
The majority of the nutrients our bodies need can be found in fruits and vegetables. Eating a lot of just one type of food won’t be as beneficial as getting multiple vitamins from a variety of sources.
Some specific vitamins and minerals that you should add to your diet to get a boost of for your immune system include the following:
- Zinc: Boosts white blood cell count. Sources include lentils, beans, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
- Vitamin C: Antioxidant that destroys free radicals. Sources include citrus fruits, red peppers, and broccoli.
- Vitamin D: Can reduce your risk of contracting viral infections. Sources include sunlight and fortified foods.
- Vitamin E: Antioxidant that destroys free radicals and improves immune function. Sources include spinach, broccoli, seeds, and nuts.
- Beta-carotene: Antioxidant that reduces inflammation and increases the number of your body’s disease-fighting cells. Sources include sweet potatoes, green leafy vegetables, and carrots.
How Exercise Benefits Your Immune System
In addition to eating well and getting a variety of nutrients into your diet, you should be regularly exercising to keep your immune system strong. Research has shown that inactivity, aging, and obesity can all be detrimental to your immune system. (5)
A simple solution is to add more activity to your lifestyle. You don’t need to worry about intensity, especially if you are new to working out. Starting small with light exercises can be enough to make a difference and help you stay healthy.
When to Exercise
Regular exercise can prevent illness, but sometimes you still get sick. If you have a mild illness, you might be able to exercise through it and feel better. Exercising is thought to be able to flush fluids from your lungs and help you feel better if you have a minor cold. (6) It may also raise your body temperature enough to more effectively fight off infections (similar to what happens when you get a fever). (6)
Don’t Overdo It
There is such a thing as getting too much exercise. In order to improve your immune system, you want to make sure you don’t cross the line of overdoing it. Overtraining has been shown to lead to fatigue and worsened performance, which can negatively impact your immune function. (7)
Similarly, don’t try to exercise if you are feeling extremely ill. If you have anything more severe than a minor cold, you’re probably better off resting than you would be trying to get through a light workout.
How Much to Exercise to Get the Benefits
A good rule of thumb is to get 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. This can include running, walking, swimming, or cycling for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. This amount of exercise has been shown to improve immune function without putting too much strain on your body. (8) Find ways to add more steps to your day by parking further away, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or adding an after-dinner walk to your evening routine.
Taking care of your body through proper nutrition and regular exercise can help you boost your immune system to prevent illnesses and give your body the tools it needs to fight them off faster.
If you are struggling to get all your nutrients through food, you aren’t alone. Most adults don’t get all the nutrients they need through diet alone.
Fortunately, supplements can help fill the gaps and ensure that you get the right balance of nutrients into your body every day. Taking a supplement like Balanced ECZ Immune Support is an easy way to make sure you are getting enough nutrients to have a healthy immune system, no matter what life throws your way.
- The innate and adaptive immune systems. (2020, July 30). Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279396/
- Childs, C. E., Calder, P. C., & Miles, E. A. (2019, August 16). Diet and Immune Function. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
- Sanchez, A., Reeser, J., Lau, H., Yahiku, P., Willard, R., McMillan, P., . . . Magie, A. (1973, November 01). Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/26/11/1180/4732762
- Nantz, M. P., Rowe, C. A., Miller, C. E., Creasy, R. A., Stanilka, J. M., & Percival, S. S. (2012, January 24). Supplementation with aged garlic extract improves both NK and γδ-T cell function and reduces the severity of cold and flu symptoms: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled nutrition intervention. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22280901/
- Nieman, D. (2020, May 8). Coronavirus disease-2019: A tocsin to our aging, unfit, corpulent, and immunodeficient society. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7205734/
- Exercise and immunity: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm
- Hackney, A. C., & Koltun, K. J. (2012, December). The immune system and overtraining in athletes: Clinical implications. Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23540172/
- Regular exercise benefits immunity — even in isolation. (2020, March 31). Retrieved September 05, 2020, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200331162314.htm