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13 Tips to Boost Your Immune System

Published April 17, 2020 Read Time: 9 minutes
Caitlin Beale

Written By: Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN

Caitlin is a registered dietitian with 9 years of experience. She holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition as well as a Bachelor of Arts in English. She is also an ACE certified health coach.

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Caitlin Beale" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "", "image": "" } }, "headline":"13 Tips to Boost Your Immune System", "datePublished":"2020-04-17", "dateModified": "2020-04-17", "description":"Learn 13 evidence-based action steps you can start now to naturally boost your immune system and stay healthy all year long.", "image": "" } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">13 Tips To Boost Your Immune System</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">The Takeaway</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>A robust immune system helps us to fight off infections all year long. </p> <p>Our immune system is the body’s defense against bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms (known as pathogens) that can cause disease.</p> <p>Multiple parts of the body work together to protect us against pathogens. Our skin, spleen, white blood cells, and thymus are all important parts of our immune defense, and our lifestyle habits help support how well this system works. </p> <p>Read on for 13 simple but effective ways to boost your immune system.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>13 tips to boost your immune system</h2> <h3>1. Wash your hands</h3> <p>It may seem simple, but handwashing is one of the most powerful ways to keep yourself healthy - and most of us do it incorrectly. </p> <p>The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Singing the chorus of your favorite song helps while you scrub the top, sides, and in between your fingers. You may be surprised how long 20 seconds can last. </p> <p>Plain soap is all you need, and in fact, there is no added benefit to antibacterial soaps<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup>. </p> <p>While it seems so simple, handwashing has been extensively studied in research. One study compared children who washed their hands twice a day and received messages about hand hygiene as compared to a control group. The study found that the children who received information and washed their hands were 30-67% less likely to miss school related to gastrointestinal illness, conjunctivitis, and the flu<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup>.</p> <h3>2. Sleep 7-9 hours a night</h3> <p><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Sleep</a> is a deeply restorative time for the body. Several key signaling elements of your immune system are upregulated during sleep to support healing processes<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup>. </p> <p>Sleep deprivation also increases the likelihood of catching a cold, as well as increases inflammation in the body<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup>. </p> <p>Working on your “sleep hygiene” is the first place to start on this list if you're someone who is constantly struggling to get a full night's rest. </p> <p>"Sleep hygiene" encompasses the simple habits you can do to fall and stay asleep. Try these tips to start:</p> <ul> <li>Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes (if not longer) before you plan to go to sleep.</li> <li>Dim the lights in your house earlier in the evening to help reset your internal clock.</li> <li> Avoid high-intensity exercise too close to bedtime.</li> <li>Avoid eating several hours before bedtime, but don’t go to bed hungry.</li> </ul> <h3>3. Make movement a priority</h3> <p>Physical activity is necessary for overall wellness – and this includes our immune health. We know exercise is good for our heart, our brain, and our mood, but exercise also positively stimulates the immune system and decreases inflammation<sup><a target="_blank" href="!po=9.32203" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup>. </p> <p>Even a single bout of exercise may enhance the immune system, but regular exercise provides the most significant benefit<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup>. </p> <p>Keep in mind that over-exercising can tax the body and decrease immune function. Research suggests that intense training (ex: more than two hours daily) can increase the risk of upper respiratory infections and result in short term immune dysfunction<sup><a target="_blank" href="!po=24.5763" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup>.</p> <p>A study on women found that those who walked five days a week were half as likely to experience upper respiratory tract infections as compared to those who were sedentary<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup>.</p> <p>Whether you belong to a gym or exercise at <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">home</a>, make the effort to move daily. Mix it up with a combination of cardio, strength, and flexibility to get the optimal immune benefit. </p> <h3>4. Don’t forget to breathe</h3> <p>Taking a few deep breaths can reset your mind – and your immune system. </p> <p>A study examining the relationship between breathing techniques and immune health found that specific breathing exercises increased the types of immune cells needed to fight off cancer progression over time<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup>.</p> <p>Breathwork and yoga also support self-awareness and mindfulness – both of which can help the body’s ability to heal through stress reduction. A regular yoga practice may improve your immune system and decrease inflammation<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup>. </p> <p>You don’t need to become a yogi overnight to gain benefits from breathwork. To get started, try the simple but effective <a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">Wim Hof method</a>, or deep belly breathing (another popular technique) using the 4-4-8 method<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup>.</p> <h3>5. Become stress-resilient</h3> <p>We live in a world with chronic stressors. While stress reduction is ideal – stress resilience may be more realistic.</p> <p>Stress resilience is our ability to bounce back and remain strong despite outside influence. Our immune system response is lowered when we are stressed.</p> <p>A study investigating medical students found that the simple act of taking an exam decreased several important immune-boosting cells<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup>. More research is needed on the direct effect of stress and the immune system – but it is clear that there is a relationship<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup>. </p> <p>Remember that some stress is good for you. A certain level of anxiety before a big talk actually improves performance<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup>. It’s the chronic, daily stress that can be detrimental to health.</p> <p>Stress resilience tips are also boosters for your immune system including:</p> <ul> <li>Exercise</li> <li>Mindfulness</li> <li>Getting adequate sleep</li> <li>Eating well</li> <li>Spending time with others</li> </ul> <p>Don’t forget to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. And most importantly, find what brings you joy – and focus on that. <h3>6. Eat whole foods</h3> <p>Suboptimal diets are associated with chronic inflammation in the body<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup>. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables will reduce inflammation and keep your immune system healthy<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup>.</p> <p>Aside from providing critical immune nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and quercetin, fruits and vegetables also provide fiber to keep your body’s natural detox systems working efficiently.</p> <p>Adequate protein and healthy fat are also necessary for supporting a healthy immune system. Certain amino acids like arginine and glutamine are essential components of our immune system and deficiencies can reduce immune response<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup>.</p> <p>Omega-three fatty acids not only play a role in the formation of immune cells but also may act as a signaling molecule to our immune cells<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup>.</p> <p>Keep healthy eating simple. Include <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">healthy fat</a>, protein, and plenty of vegetables with each meal. Aim for 5-7 servings of those vibrant fruits and vegetables each day.</p> <h3>7. Avoid fast foods</h3> <p>While focusing on what foods you can add to nourish your immune system, there are also certain types of foods to avoid. </p> <p>A study examining the effect of fast food on the immune system found that a diet low in fiber and high in inflammatory fat and sugar activates specific immune cells. These cells usually recognize infection and cause an inflammatory response. The immune cells in the study were activated even when there was no infection present<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">19</a></sup>. </p> <p>This study suggests that the immune system views fast food as a threat therefore creating an inflammatory immune response. If your body is in a state of inflammation, it may reduce your ability to effectively ward off real pathogens when they come along.</p> <h3>8. Curb the sugar intake</h3> <p>Sugar negatively impacts the immune system.</p> <p>An older study published in the 1970s suggests that eating sugar decreases the immune system response<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">20</a></sup>. Interestingly this study has yet to be replicated. Still, we do know that <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">sugar</a> can have other harmful effects in the body, including increased inflammation, so avoiding sugar remains an important factor for supporting your immune health<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">21</a></sup>.</p> <h3>9. Consider specific supplements</h3> <p>While obtaining most of your nutrients from food is ideal, supplements are often a valuable addition. </p> <p>Vitamin or mineral supplements may be necessary if you need larger amounts of a nutrient or if your diet is lacking. There are many recommendations for immune-boosting supplements, but the most evidence-based supplements for immune health are:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Zinc</strong>: Zinc is a critical cofactor for proteins necessary in the immune system<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">22</a></sup>. Taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of respiratory tract infections can reduce the length of a cold by 2-4 days<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">23</a></sup>.</li> <li><strong>Vitamin C</strong>: Vitamin C is a well-known immune booster, with many studies supporting its use in the prevention of infection<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">24</a></sup>. It appears that people who regularly take vitamin C experience a greater resilience than those who start to take it once they already get sick<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">25</a></sup>. </li> <li><strong>Vitamin D</strong>: Vitamin D plays a role in the signaling of immune cells during infections<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">26</a></sup>. Several studies have shown a relationship between suboptimal vitamin D levels and increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">27</a></sup>. </li> </ul> <h3>10. Support your gut health</h3> <p>A healthy gut is essential for a strong immune system. The majority of our immune cells are found in our gut<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">28</a></sup>. </p> <p>The beneficial bacteria in our gut also can independently signal to the immune cells, while also working to protect against pathogens. </p> <p>Studies have found that specific strains of probiotic supplements may also help support our gut bacteria to decrease upper respiratory infections in children<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">29</a></sup> and older adults<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">30</a></sup>, as well as decrease the overall days of illness in children and adults<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">31</a></sup>. </p> <p>When we eat certain types of indigestible plant fibers known as prebiotics, our gut bacteria synthesize short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA not only supports our immune system by supporting our gut intestinal lining, but certain types of SCFA can affect proteins involved in immune system signaling pathways<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">32</a></sup>.</p> <p>The best way to start supporting healthy gut bacteria is to eat <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">fermented foods</a> daily. Start with ¼- ½ cup of lacto-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, natto, or yogurt daily. </p> <p>A broad strain, high CFU <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">probiotic</a> daily may also help to support your immune system. Prebiotic fibers to feed the bacteria come from any high fiber foods, especially leeks, onions, sunchokes, asparagus, and avocado.</p> <h3>11. Get spicy</h3> <p>They may be small, but herbs and spices provide powerful immune health benefits. </p> <p>Herbs and spices include concentrated forms of <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">anti-inflammatory</a> phytonutrients. Spice up your meals with a sprinkle of these herbs and spices: </p> <ul> <li><strong>Ginger</strong>: Ginger has traditionally been used as a natural pain reliever and anti-emetic, but has also displayed anti-inflammatory properties<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">33</a></sup>. Ginger also may have antiviral benefits when used fresh<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">34</a></sup>.</li> <li><strong>Turmeric</strong>: The active ingredient in turmeric—curcumin—is a well-studied herb for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Curcumin can also alter the immune system by activating white blood cells<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">35</a></sup>.</li> <li><strong>Garlic</strong>: While technically a vegetable, garlic is used as an herb or spice to flavor dishes. Beyond the tasty flavor, garlic augments the immune system by activating specific immune system cells and modifying inflammatory cells<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">36</a></sup>.</li> </ul> <h3>12. Get outside</h3> <p>Taking the time to step outside in the fresh air for even 20 minutes a day can decrease stress hormones<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">37</a></sup>. </p> <p>Even further, spending time around forest and trees enhances our immune system by just breathing in the smell of the trees (known as “forest bathing”)<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">38</a></sup>. If you don’t have access to a forest, finding a tree at a nearby park or your yard to sit near can be just as beneficial.</p> <h3>13. Cultivate connection</h3> <p>Social support and connection is so essential for our well-being that lack of connection may be more of a risk factor for mortality than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">39</a></sup>. </p> <p>Research has also shown that people who experience loneliness have a lowered immune system and increased inflammation<sup><a target="_blank" href="" rel="nofollow noreferrer">40</a></sup>. Reaching out to friends or family, whether in-person or on the phone is another essential ingredient to immune health.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="" alt="how to boost immune system"> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>The Takeaway</h2> <p>In summary, to boost your immune system:</p> <ol> <li>Wash your hands</li> <li>Get adequate sleep</li> <li>Exercise daily</li> <li>Practice breathwork or yoga (or both)</li> <li>Become stress resilient</li> <li>Eat whole foods</li> <li>Avoid fast food</li> <li>Reduce sugar intake</li> <li>Consider supplementation with zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D</li> <li>Keep your gut healthy</li> <li>Use herbs and spices</li> <li>Enjoy the outdoors</li> <li>Connect with loved ones</li> </ol> <p>Don’t know where to start? Begin with just one or two suggestions, and slowly add more of these recommendations to your daily habit list.</p> <p>Tip: Try our <a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">at-home workouts</a> to easily get your daily exercise, and pair that with one or two other quick-start options.</p> <p>The combination of diet, exercise, and self-care on this list will help to keep you healthy for cold and flu season and beyond.</p> </section> </article>

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