The COVID pandemic has made the need to remain vigilant in one’s health important more than ever before. Aside from masking, social distancing, and proper handwashing habits, having a balanced immune system, functioning at its optimal level is just as important.
There are many lifestyle and dietary changes that can be implemented in your daily life to help achieve optimal immune system function. The main, and most important, factors to a healthy immune system begin with exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep.
Moderate exercise has been proven to give the immune system a boost and even help improve vaccine effectiveness. Regular moderate exercise has shown to boost the immune system and increase the effectiveness of vaccines, even in people with compromised immune systems. Regular exercise has also shown to reduce inflammation and help immune cell regeneration. Examples of moderate exercise that can help boost the immune system include brisk walking, bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking; the ideal time is around 150 minutes per week.
Evidence has shown that some micronutrient deficiencies and malnourishment can make you more vulnerable to infectious diseases and a healthy, balanced diet is important in maintaining a balanced immune system. Whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are nutrient and antioxidant rich. Antioxidants assist in decreasing inflammation by working to fight against free radicals in the body, which are associated with inflammation. Plants that are high in fiber help improve immunity by encouraging the growth and nourishment of your gut microbiome (the community of helpful bacteria in your gut). Fermented foods that are high in probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi also assist in strengthening the bacteria in the gut. Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil and salmon can help boost the body’s immune response through decreasing inflammation as well.
Inadequate or poor sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness, those who slept less than 6 hours a night were more likely to catch a cold than those who got more. Sleep may strengthen your immune system and more sleep when you are sick allows your immune system to fight off the illness better.
Lastly, reducing stress is important in maintaining a healthy immune system. The relationship between the mind and body has been proven to be very closely related, with maladies like upset stomach, hives, and even heart disease being linked to the effects of stress. While stress is hard to measure because it is relative from person to person, long-term stress promotes inflammation and creates an imbalance in immune cell function and suppresses the immune system. Learning how to manage and lower stress can help your immune system function at its optimal performance. Some activities that can help reduce stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other practices that increase mindfulness; seeking the help from a licensed therapist or psychiatrist can also help reduce and manage stress.
While these practices cannot guarantee that you will not become infected with COVID-19, they can help make sure that your body’s immune system is functioning at its highest and is primed to fight infection, should it occur.