4 ways to strengthen your immune system
With flu season fast approaching and the continued threat of COVID-19, now is the time to boost your immune system! Most of us have adopted some of the most beneficial habits to protect ourselves and others including frequent hand washing, wearing masks, and wiping down surfaces. These practices are a great place to start, but more can be done to protect us by improving our immune system.
Sleep: There are many reasons why 7-9 hours of sleep is important for optimal health. It is important for the immune system because melatonin is produced when we sleep. Melatonin helps stimulate the production of natural killer cells which play a vital role in our immune response. Blue light from phones, computers, televisions limit the production of melatonin. Limiting screen time before bedtime will help improve sleep and your immune system.
Exercise: A strong immune system relies on good transport and communication throughout the body. Blood and lymph (a fluid that contains white blood cells) movement are key components of our body’s defense system. The heart is responsible for blood flow and exercise increases blood flow throughout the body. Exercise is especially important for lymph movement because lymph relies on movement to be effectively transported throughout the body. Additionally, opioids released when we exercise enhance the immune system. While exercising does produce oxidants (molecules that react with other molecules causing disease and inflammation), exercise also produces a massive amount of antioxidants which are extremely beneficial for our immune system. It’s important to find the right amount of exercise that works for you. You should feel energized after you exercise. A 20-30 minute walk in nature is a great place to start if you are new to exercise.
Nutrition: 90% of our immune system is around our digestive tract. You can improve your immunity or reduce your immunity depending on the foods you eat. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables improve your ability to fight off infection. In contrast, sugar, foods high in hydrogenated fat (fried foods, packaged snacks, margarine), and fast food weaken your immune system. A good rule of thumb is to consider how you feel after you eat. Avoid meals that make you feel tired. You should feel energized.
Hydration: Good hydration is important for the immune system because we want both lymph and blood to be able to flow easily. Dehydration will increase the viscosity of these fluids and reduce their ability to transport cells throughout the body that are important to fight off infection. A good target is drinking ½ your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, drink 75 ounces of water/day. Minimize alcohol and coffee consumption since they cause dehydration.
Dr. Terry Gebhardt is a physical therapist and hypnotherapist specializing in optimizing health