With cold and flu season in full swing, it’s crucial to start thinking about boosting your health now. To improve your chances of fending off the common cold, or even more serious health conditions, be proactive about building a strong immune system.
Your body’s immune system is more powerful than you think. In fact, the immune system is the body’s natural defense against an “invasion” from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.
“All of these things can be found everywhere—our homes, our work environments, our backyards, and in foods,” said Ann Austin, D.O., a Carilion Clinic Internal Medicine physician in Roanoke. “When the immune system is working properly it can keep health problems at bay.”
What are easy ways to boost immunity?
“There is no single answer, but there are steps we can take to improve our immunity,” Dr. Austin said. “Adopting healthy habits, such as getting regular exercise, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep will make a big difference.”
These are things we hear about every day, but what do healthy habits really entail?
When it comes to exercise, it’s important to keep moving.
“Getting a total of 30 minutes of daily physical activity can improve many defenses of the immune system,” Dr. Austin said. “Exercise gets antibodies and (infection-fighting) white blood cells moving through the body faster, so they may detect illnesses sooner. Don’t worry about intense workouts. Start moderately, and if you can’t get a full 30-minute exercise in at once, break it up into several 10-minute walks or workouts throughout the day.”
No one food will magically fend off sickness, but certain nutrients can help.
“It’s important to eat a diet rich in antioxidant vitamins,” Dr. Austin said. “Focus on eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in various colors—dark green, red, yellow, and orange—which are packed with antioxidants. Berries, spinach, and sweet potatoes are also great immune boosters. And when in doubt, you can always turn to good old-fashioned chicken noodle soup.”
Some people wonder if eating organic foods can help immunity.
“Organic foods are no more nutritious than non-organic foods,” Dr. Austin said. “But organic foods often do contain lower amounts of pesticides. I advise people to eat locally if they can, whether organic foods or non-organic. Local food is usually fresher and, in turn, healthier.”
You may not realize how important a good night’s sleep is to staying healthy.
“Most adults need between seven and nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night,” Dr. Austin said. “Since this amount varies from person to person, see how you feel in the morning or throughout the day. If you are feeling tired, chances are you’re not getting enough sleep.”
Another thing to keep in mind as you try and boost your immune system: Don’t get too stressed out.
“Stress can take a toll on your health,” Dr. Austin said. “Exercise and sleep can help, but also find that ‘go-to person’ to talk with as a stress reliever. It will not only help your physical health, but also your mental health.”
To learn more ways to improve your health, visit Carilion Clinic’s “Health & Wellness” hub on CarilionClinic.org.
Laura Markowski is a writer for Carilion’s marketing communications department.