Our immune system protects us, therefore it’s our role to provide it with the tools it needs so it can function at its best.
Modern living can lead us to low immune health. Stress, lack of sleep and exercise, and more time spent in doors can negatively affect our immune health. Similarly, inadequate nutrition and a high sugar intake contribute to decreased immune function.
Rather than waiting until you’re hit with cold and flu symptoms; support your immune function now to ramp up its defence and have more resilience on a continual basis.
There are lots of healthy habits that you can adopt to support your immune health to help stay well over the Autumn and Winter months.
Your lifestyle choices can play a huge role in supporting your immune system.
Vitamin D is synthesised by the action of sunlight on the skin, is essential for the immune system and plays a role in the activity of serotonin. More time indoors means less sun exposure. Insufficient levels of Vitamin D can also be addressed through dietary sources including fatty fish, foods fortified with Vitamin D and egg yolk.
- Eat breakfast outside
- Go for a walk around the block
- Do your workout in the park
- Have a cuppa and phone a friend in the garden
REST + RELAX
Stress is known to have an unfavourable effect on the immune system. Stress lowers the body’s white blood cells, needed to fight infections and decreases function of white blood cells. Stress depletes adrenal stores of Vitamin C, a nutrient that requires for immune health. Incorporate de-stressing techniques into your daily routine, mindfulness apps, yoga, a warm bath or whatever works for you.
- Take a break
- Have a sleep in
- Skip the high-intensity workout
- Have a magnesium bath
- Headspace or Calm mindfulness app
- Binge watch Netflix
Incorporate movement into your day every day – moderation is key. Exercising on a daily basis maintains healthy circulation and therefore blood and nutrient supply to the whole body. Lack of exercise increases inappropriate cytokine activity. Moderate exercise aids in counteracting the effects of stress and improves sleep, strengthening the immune system.
- Go for a walking nature
- Cycle to the shops
- Do some gardening
- Download a fittness app
It’s an obvious one, but so important as there are a number of infectious diseases that can be spread from person to person by contaminated hands. Proper hand washing can help prevent the spread of disease-causing germs, including bacteria and viruses.
Wash your hands:
- After using the toilet or changing nappies
- Before, during and after food preparation
- Before eating
- After blowing your nose
- Before and after attending to sick people
- After smoking, handling animals or rubbish
Studies demonstrate that individuals who have poor quality or inadequate sleep are more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus. Sleep is needed for the brain to function properly and for the body to restore itself. Sleep deprivation is associated with chronic health problems and affects the way you think, learn, work, react, and interact with others. Lack of sleep can elevate pro-inflammatory cytokines, leading to chronic low-grade inflammation
- Establish a regular bedtime and waking time
- Avoid bright lights and screen time before bed
- Avoid caffeine after midday
- Aim for 7-9 hours and waking refreshed.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex.
HYDRATION AS HABIT
We all know how important it is to stay hydrated. The recommended daily intake of water is 1800-2200ml. The best way to remember to drink the adequate daily water intake is to make hydration a habit. Try these tips:
- Place a glass of water next to your bed each night ready to drink first thing in the morning.
- Carry a large water bottle with you to work or school.
- Switch to herbal tea. Coffee and tea are diuretics that can be dehydrating. Herbal tea can be a great substitute for these.
- Set an alert or download an app on your phone to remind you to drink water ever hour.
Mental health can have an impact on your immune system. Social interaction or having a support network can play a key role in maintaining your mental health. So do your best to stay in touch with your friends and family or talk to a counsellor.
What you eat can play a huge role in supporting your immune system.
Sugar suppresses the immune system. Refined sugar depletes our body of essential nutrients including zinc, vitamin C and magnesium. Studies show sugar intake reduces the capacity of white blood cells (part of our immune system) to function properly. Many pathogens such as fungus or candida feed on sugar, leading to their increased virulence within the body.
Try your best to limit:
- Foods with added sugar
- Soft drinks, cordial, milkshakes
- Lollies, chocolate, ice-cream
- Cakes, cookies
- Generic breakfast cereals and granola bars
- Condiments, sauces, dressings
- Processed and ready-to-eat meals
Vitamin C has been shown to increase resistance to infection and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin C reduces the severity and length of time of cold and flu symptoms. It’s important to note that vitamin C is decreased when exposed to heat. So try having some fresh fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C:
- Red capsicum
- Leafy greens
Zinc has multiple actions on the immune system, so it’s no surprise that deficiency is linked to impaired immune function.
Sources of zinc include:
Adequate protein in the diet is essential for healthy immune function. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are required in nearly all chemical processes affecting mental and physical function. In the immune system they are required for the formation of antibodies, which protect the body from antigens such as viruses and bacteria.
Some good sources of protein include:
- Lean meat, poultry and fish
- Eggs and tofu
- Nuts and seeds
- Beans and legumes
SPICE IT UP
Spices are more than just aromatic substances used to season our food. Spices including ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon and cayenne also have immune supporting properties.
Spice up your life with:
- Spiced turmeric latte
- Cayenne in your hot chocolate
- Cinnamon with oats or chia puddings
- Garlic in dips and salad dressings
- Ginger in your stir-fry or soup
A whole food diet is comprised of foods, which are as close to their natural state as possible. Whole-foods contain an array of nutrients, which occur naturally in the correct ratios to work synergistically to benefit the immune system. For example, 1 whole orange is rich in fibre, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, whereas a glass of reconstituted long-life orange juice may have been stripped of nutrition and then had it added back.
Focus on eating less from a packet and more:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Legumes and whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean meat, poultry and fish (in moderation)
The gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the body’s first line of defence against disease-causing pathogens. It is where we digest and absorb nutrients; it houses our gut microbes (known as gut bacteria) and regulates immune homeostasis. To support gut health, including fibre-rich foods to feed gut microbes and probiotic foods containing beneficial bacteria can be included in the diet.
Fibre-rich foods: Fruit, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Probiotic foods: yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso and natto.