An Important Note
While social distancing and proper hygiene works, no supplement, diet, or lifestyle change can protect you from catching the Coronavirus. The ideas below can boost your immune health, but they don’t protect specifically against COVID-19.
However, other illnesses and pain are not stopping for the Coronavirus. If you want to boost your general immune health, here are a number of proven ways to help your body fight off most diseases.
9 tips to strengthen your body's natural defenses
While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes can strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful bacteria and viruses.
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely tied. Inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher chance to get sick. Getting adequate rest can strengthen your natural immunity.
In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night.
Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours. If you become sick, extra sleep is one of the best ways to allow your immune system to better fight illness.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, or computer can disrupt your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle.
Other sleep tips include installing blackout curtains to sleep in a completely dark room, using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
2. Eat more whole plant foods
Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that can give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens.
The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting free radicals. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including arthritis, muscle spasms, bulging disc, headaches, carpal tunnel, joint pain, sciatica, and other chronic pain.
Furthermore, the fiber in plants feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. And fruits and vegetables are also rich in nutrients like vitamin C.
3. Eat more healthy fats
Healthy fats, like those found in extra virgin olive oil and oily sea fish like mackerel and salmon, can boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation. For the healthiest oils, look for those labeled as cold-pressed.
Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in many seeds like chia seeds, as well as seaweed, fight inflammation too.
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system. Adding healthy fats to your diet naturally combats chronic inflammation.
4. Eat more fermented foods & take a probiotic supplement
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract. These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto.
Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms. In a 3-month study in 126 children, those who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 mL) of fermented milk (also known as kefir) daily had about 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases compared with a control group.
In addition to regularly eating fermented foods, probiotic supplements also help. In a 28-day study in 152 people infected with rhinovirus, those who supplemented with probiotic bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than the control group.
Gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Fermented foods and probiotics can bolster your immune system by helping it identify and target harmful pathogens.
5. Limit sugar intake
Emerging research suggests that refined sugar and carbs contribute disproportionately to obesity, and obesity can increase your risk of getting sick.
According to an observational study in around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice as likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine.
Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid in weight loss. Proper weight reduces your risk of chronic health conditions, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which can weaken your immune system.
You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
6. Exercise in moderation
While prolonged, intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost. Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines, especially in people with compromised immune systems.
Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. According to Health & Human Services, most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Regular, moderate exercise also reduces inflammation and helps your immune cells regenerate.
7. Stay hydrated
Hydration doesn’t directly protect you from germs and viruses, but not getting dehydrated is important to your overall health.
Dehydration can hinder your focus, mood, digestion, heart and kidney function, and give you headaches. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness.
While tea and juice are hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of sweetened drinks because of their high sugar contents. Water is the best option since it's free of calories, sugar, and other additives.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women should drink 11.5 cups (2.7L) of water per day and men should drink 15.5 cups (3.7L) of water per day. You will probably need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or live in a hot climate.
It’s important to note that senior adults tend to lose the urge to drink as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately. They need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
8. Manage your stress levels
Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health.
Long-term stress can promote inflammation, as well as imbalances in immune cell function. In particular, prolonged psychological stress can suppress the immune response in children.
Activities that help manage stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. You may also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, virtually or in person.
9. Supplement wisely
It’s easy to turn to supplements if you've heard claims that they can prevent or treat COVID-19. However, these reports are unfounded. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there’s no evidence to support the use of any supplement to prevent or treat COVID-19.
However, some studies indicate that the following supplements can strengthen your body’s general immune response:
While these supplements demonstrated potential in the studies mentioned above, supplements are prone to mislabeling because they aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Look for supplements that have been independently tested by third-party organizations and labeled with United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or Consumer Labs.
Although none of these suggestions can prevent the Coronavirus, they can reinforce your body’s defenses against other harmful pathogens. You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes today to strengthen your immune system. These include eating more healthfully, supplementing wisely, staying hydrated, and exercising properly in moderation.
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