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How to Strengthen Your Immune System to Ward Off Illness

Fears regarding the coronavirus have sparked widespread curiosity about how to boost the immune system. A strong immune system helps protect the body from disease-causing pathogens and helps the body remove foreign and harmful pathogens from the body. 

There is no one way to guarantee that you won’t ever get sick, whether it’s with coronavirus or from a common cold. But there are things you can do every day to support your immune system and give it the best chance to fight off illness.  

Get Plenty of Quality Sleep

Sleep is the body’s way of restoring and recovering. Sleep is also an important part of strengthening the body’s immune system. While sleeping, the body releases a special protein, called cytokines, that are essential in targeting infections. Research tells us that sleep deprivation (getting less than the recommended amount of sleep for days, weeks, or even months) makes the body susceptible to many diseases, including chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes. 

This doesn’t mean that sleeping more than necessary will support the immune system. In fact, researchers know that sleeping too much can contribute to the same health risks as sleeping too little. But it does mean that not getting enough good quality sleep can make someone more susceptible to getting sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, while teenagers get anywhere from 8 to 10.

Eat a Well-Rounded Diet to Keep the Gut-Microbiota Healthy

The gut microbiota is a colony of billions of microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, found in the gastrointestinal tract. The gut microbiota helps the body digest food and also plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Scientists know that roughly 70% of the body’s immune system is found in the gut

The gut microbiota is healthier when there is a more diverse population of microorganisms. Foods that are known to harm the gut microbiota and decrease the diversity of microorganisms include greasy and packaged foods and even drinking too much alcohol. A varied diet rich in high-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, promotes a more diverse population of the gut microbiome.

Get a Handle on Stress

The current situation around COVID-19 may be stressful for some. Fear and anxiety can bring up strong emotions and can lead to overwhelming stress. Researchers know that stress, whether emotional or physical, negatively affects the immune system. Chronic stress lasting days or even years has a particularly detrimental effect on the immune system. 

Some examples of ways to manage stress include:

  • Deep breathing techniques: Shallow breathing is part of the stress response. Practicing deep breathing, also called belly or diaphragmatic breathing, gets more oxygen to the brain, which helps calm the nervous system and induce calmness. 
  • Creating and sticking to a routine: Routines can help improve mental health and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.  
  • Exercise or be active every day: Exercise decreases tension, improves mood, and is even proven to help improve sleep quality.

Sources:

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768894/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4394987/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5056590/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190902142015.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/
https://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath
https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/exercising-for-better-sleep
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3337124/