4 *REAL* Ways to Support Your Immune System
We can all agree that COVID-19 is terrible, right? Right. On top of that, it's now cold and flu season. In other words, it's the time of year our immune systems are typically most challenged. Around this time, we see all sorts of articles and blogs about "boosting" your immune system with this vitamin or that superfood. But, let's get one thing straight right from the start: you can't really "boost" your immune system; you can only support it. In other words, you can't make your immune system something that it's not, but...there are things within your control that can optimize the health of your immune system. So, how do we do that? Let's get right to it:
1. Eat more whole foods. Too many people I meet don't consume enough produce or whole grains. Some focus solely on protein for what they believe will help keep them slim. Others find it difficult to keep a fridge full of fresh produce or don't understand the importance of eating that produce. And yet others simply don't like a lot of fruits and vegetables or prefer white flour over whole grain flour. Whatever your reason, it is worth exploring not only eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but also eating more of a variety of them. Why? Each different whole food you eat contains a different nutrient profile; a peach has different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals than an apple, for example. And if you eat enough variety, you're ensuring you're getting enough of every needed nutrient and as many phytochemicals as possible. For example, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant (which fights those harmful, pesky free radicals) and also enhances production of immune cells. Vitamin A plays a role in the development of your immune system and helps regulate your body's immune responses and processes. And the list goes on. So, make it a point to pick up a few more whole foods the next time you're at the store.
2. Keep your stress in check. That may sound self-righteous, especially during these unusually stressful times. EVERYONE is stressed, including me. My kids are at home; my husband is not; I feel isolated from friends and activities...you know the drill. But as we are seemingly all experiencing more stress than usual, let's remind one another to practice a bit more self-care. Little acts throughout our day can reduce our stress and, in turn, help support our immune functions. Online yoga, a few minutes of meditation, scheduling in exercise, mindfulness activities, reading a book, going for a walk outside, giving a friend a call. Whatever it is, try peppering in a few of these into your day, your week, your month. Every little thing to keep that oxidative stress at bay will help keep your body's cells healthy and reduce your risk of certain diseases like diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
3. Get enough shuteye. Getting enough sleep? Yeah, I didn't think so. In fact, 1 in 3 of us lack the sleep we need. And aside from midday fatigue, why is this a problem? Well, sleep is when your body can rest and regenerate. If you don't get enough of it, your body's ability to produce cytokines and antibodies, proteins that are needed in time of sickness and stress, may decrease, making it harder to fight off infections or inflammation. And now that we're in the middle of cold, flu and COVID season, sleep is one of the biggest, most important things we can do for ourselves. So, put away the screens at least one hour before bedtime, turn on some relaxing music, and pick up a good book. Or, do whatever relaxes you. All that self-care will help keep you healthy...and rested for the following day!
4. Follow COVID-19 guidelines. No matter how many Brussels sprouts we eat, how much sleep we get and how many yoga classes we take, there are always pesky (or dangerous) germs and viruses out there waiting for us. So follow the CDC guidelines to staying healthy: wash your hands, physically distance, wear a mask, clean surfaces, and cover your coughs/sneezes. Do this, not only or yourself, but for others.