9 Tips to Support Your Immune Health
It’s wintertime. You’re dealing with life challenges. You’re not getting enough sleep and now you’re not feeling so great. While your goal is to live healthy each day, life can be demanding and sometimes healthy ambitions go by the wayside. Fortunately, there are things you can do right now to support and strengthen your immune system.
Overall wellness starts with a strong foundation: a healthy diet, regular exercise and minimal stress. Learn more on how to optimize your health with the tips below, but first:
Handwashing Has Been Decreasing!
How do we end up with a cold or the flu? When we do not wash our hands, we are at risk of transferring harmful microbes such as bacteria, viruses and more where they can enter the body. Bradley Corporation, an industry leader in health and sanitary solutions, studies and tracks Americans’ handwashing habits. The results of its latest survey were stunning: handwashing has been significantly dropping!
The Healthy Handwashing Survey™ from Bradley Corporation found handwashing frequency decreased 25% among adults compared to when the coronavirus first hit. Specifically, in the spring of 2020, Americans were washing their hands an average of 10.5 times per day. This January 2022, that number dropped by one-fourth to 7.8 times per day.
Another way to look at the numbers: In April 2020, 78% of Americans washed 6-15 times/day. Now only 56% wash that often.
Bradley also asked respondents which actions they take when they are feeling sick. The most common responses were:
- Stay home as much as possible
- Wear a mask when outside the home
- Drink more fluids
- Keep away from others
- Wash hands more frequently
- Take Vitamin C
- Get more sleep
They are correct on many of these actions. Everything from hygiene to nutrition is important when you’re feeling sick.
What is important to know is that optimizing the immune system means protection from inflammation, illness, chronic disease, obesity and even aging. Many people are unaware that the way to optimal health is to support the immune system. Immunity is vital to our health – far beyond just preventing the flu or a head cold.
Tips to Support Immune Health
✦Wash Hands. As mentioned, handwashing is superior to hand sanitizer or not washing at all. It is foundational. To wash hands properly: ensure you use soap, lather up, wash between fingers, up to the wrist for at least 20 seconds. We tend to unconsciously touch our face and that’s how we allow harmful bugs that leads to illness to enter our body. When you wash your hands, you remove all of the pathogens that can disrupt your health.
✦Get Sleep! Sleep impacts virtually every system in the body. During sleep, the brain releases protective molecules called cytokines, which are necessary for healing to occur in the body. These cytokines also promote sleep. However, when we lack sleep, there is a marked reduction of these protective cytokines whether short-term sleep loss or long-term loss. Getting enough high-quality sleep facilitates the delicate balance of immune function that is vital for immune health.
✦Eat More Plants – Plants contain antioxidants, polyphenols, fiber–all of which protect you by supporting immune health. In fact, the polyphenols and plant fibers feed the healthy gut microbes to support your immune system. Research has found that those who ingest the most plants, have the healthiest microbiome.
✦Add Fermented Foods. Our gut is the epicenter of every aspect of health including our immune system. Therefore, adding foods that are rich in probiotics is vital. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that protect and defend your health. Fermented and cultured foods such as: yogurt, pickles, kimchi, olives, cottage cheese, kefir, natto, and others.
✦Optimize Gut Health. 80% of our immune system resides within the gut. That is why it is critical to take care of our gut. A healthy gut will repay you powerfully in benefits. You can look at your gut as a “Gut Garden.” We want to ‘pull the weeds,’ which is essentially removing all unhealthy, refined and processed foods that literally harm our gut health ~ killing off healthy microbes. Next, we want to “plant” healthy probiotics. These probiotics such as fermented and cultured foods (or supplementation) work powerfully to support your immune system optimally. Lastly, we want to “fertilize” our gut garden with prebiotic fibers from vegetables and some fruits such as berries, apples, kiwis, etc. These prebiotic fibers feed the healthy probiotics (bacteria) leading to an abundance of them and creating a healthier, more fortified you.
✦Exercise. How can moving one’s body lead to better protection from illness and disease? Exercise is not only excellent for every aspect of health and mental well-being, it is a tool to ensure your immune system is doing what it is supposed to do and the list is long. Because exercise increases blood and lymph flow as your muscles contract, it also increases the circulation of immune cells. Any type of exercise whether walking, running, strength training or more will have a positive effect. Exercise most days of the week. But don’t over-train as excess exercise will lead to inflammation…just the opposite effect.
✦Supplements. If you’re eating right, exercising, getting quality sleep, you could still be deficient in important immune supporting nutrients. It is easy to do as our food is now grown in nutrient depleted soil, long haul travel, storage times, aging, stress etc., all promote deficiencies within our body. Ensure you are optimized in vitamin D, zinc, vitamin C, quercetin, turmeric, selenium and vitamin B complex. Always check with your doctor before using supplements.
✦Eliminate Sugar & Industrial Seed Oils. Sugar directly feeds the aforementioned unhealthy gut bacteria. This is unfortunate as we are creating an abundance of them. We want to literally feed the healthy gut bugs with prebiotics to optimize our immune system. Sugar also inflames the gut further reducing the overall health of it. Swap unhealthy sugar for Monk Fruit Sweetener, stevia, allulose or swerve.
Industrial processed oils are just as harmful as sugar. Oils such as soy, vegetable, corn or canola are all inflammatory and highly processed foods. Remember that all refined foods are unhealthy but particularly these oils as they are highly inflammatory, oxidized, cheap and the food manufacturers use them in most every processed packaged food product. These harm our immune system by impairing the cellular membrane and cell matrix. This has a profound effect upon our immune response and inflammation level. Swap out unhealthy oils for healthy avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil or butter. All are natural whole foods sources that improve health. The healthier our cells, the healthier we are.
✦Hydrate! Dehydration makes us more susceptible to germs. Water carries important components of the immune system, including nutrients, to where they need to go and carries away waste that can potentially weaken our immune system. Water flushes out toxins from the body, oxygenates blood and encourages the production of lymph fluid which is a crucial part of our immune system. Keeping mucus membranes moist is vital to preventing these invisible invaders from easily entering through dry tissue. Drink half your body weight in ounces daily. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs. Drink 60 ounces of water each day.
With all the concern about colds, flu and other viral infections, we need to look at what we can do to support our natural defense system. Small changes have powerful results.