What you eat, your attitude, and the amount of exercise you get can all play a role in strengthening your immune system and preventing illness!
BY CEVEL REGIS
A lot of our day to day habits compromise our body’s ability to protect itself. Lifestyle choices affect how well our immune system can protect us from germs, viruses, and chronic illness. In a time where there are many harmful viruses and diseases circulating, it is advised that we give our bodies a much needed immunity boost.
Alisha Daniel, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Holistic Wellness & Lifestyle Coach based in Trinidad & Tobago, believes that “ there are bad habits that can weaken your immune system and you should aim to replace them with good ones that can help keep your immune system healthy.” Daniel, owner of Lifestyle In Style, advised that eliminating as many of these habits as you can will help to strengthen your immune system and hopefully prevent you from getting sick as frequently.
For those of you who are wondering, here are some of the habits that we should discontinue to give us the best chance to fight off illness:
Lack of Sleep
Studies have shown that habits such as staying up late makes your body more prone to colds and viruses. Your body restores itself at night so when you stay up late on your devices, watching television or hanging -- these activities can put a stress on your body and your immune system leaving you open to illness and exhaustion.
The quality of food we eat can cause immunity depletion. “Diets high in saturated fats, salt, sugar and processed foods weaken the immune system,” Daniel said.
Stress can have a negative effect on your immune system and cause other health problems such as slower healing time for wounds and increase your chances for contracting the cold. “Stress also makes the body produce more of the hormone cortisol which impairs the body’s ability to fight off infection and diseases," Daniel added.
Lack of Exercise
Do you sit around on the couch a lot and not exercise often? Daniel warned that “a sedentary life or too much sitting affects the body negatively and impinges its ability to fight off infection.” Exercise causes changes in white blood cells so they circulate more rapidly making them able to detect illnesses earlier than before.
Smoking and Alcohol
Excessive drinking can reduce the immune system's response to invading pathogens, while smoking reduces B cell antibody formation and T cells’ response to antigens. “Both of these increases the body’s stress response and causes production of cortisol which weakens the immune system,” says Daniel.
What you eat, your attitude, and the amount of exercise you get can all play a role in strengthening your immune system and preventing illness. Now that we have identified the habits that you need to ditch, let’s identify the ones you should adapt.
Wash Your Hands
Although this should be a normal part of our daily routine, ongoing Social Media discussions have indicated that we should include this habit on our list. Yes people, washing your hands regularly is a good habit to help boost your immune system. We should all wash our hands, with water and soap, for at least 20 seconds several times during the day. Why? Colds and the flu are passed on contaminated surfaces, especially our hands. By washing our hands regularly we can control the spread of disease.
Daniel asserts that “we should turn off all devices and get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep every day in a dark and cool room.” During sleep, cytokines are produced and released which target infection and inflammation, creating an immune response.
Change Your Diet
Good nutrition is essential for a strong immune system. Avoid junk foods with added fat, sugar or sodium. Daniel advises that you“Eat natural whole foods, food that is minimally processed and hydrate with 8 - 10 cups of water daily and take probiotics.” Protein helps your body's defense mechanism. Water improves the oxygen level and fluid balance in your blood, it encourages the production of lymph, which our immune system uses to circulate white blood cells and nutrients all around the body. Eat foods that are rich in:
Vitamin A assists with the regulation of the immune system.
Vitamin C protects you by stimulating antibody formation to boost immunity.
Vitamin E neutralizes free radicals to improve your immune system.
Zinc assists the immune system to work as it should and helps with wound healing.
Another way to boost your immune system is to get moving. You should also go outside and get some sunlight. When you exercise your immune system responds by producing more of the blood cells that attack bacterial invaders. “Keep moving! 30 minutes into your routine can help your body fight off inflammation, infection and diseases,” says Daniel.
Stress is a normal part of our lives and it can affect our body’s hormonal balance. Including stress reducing activities into your daily routine can help alleviate stress. Socialise with friends, adopt a pet, laugh often — after all they say “ laughter is the best medicine.” In addition to this, Daniel suggests that we “Get support from friends and families, set priorities, rest, meditate and say no!” in an effort to alleviate stress.
Reduce or avoid alcohol and smoking
Smoking and drinking alcohol weakens your immunity against infections. Your body constantly has to fight against inflammation and damage from tobacco, causing your white blood cell count to remain elevated for a long time. “By reducing or stopping these two habits you can boost your immune system and help with the breakdown of bacteria and viruses,” says Daniel.