“Take care of your immune system and it will take care of you”. Sage advice for all of us regardless if there is a pandemic going on or not. In “normal” years, we are still plagued annually with the common cold and influenza; we have accepted these annual infections as a fact of life and may well soon be adding the coronavirus to that list. However, having a strong immune system can help you ward off getting sick, or if you do get sick, the symptoms are not as bad and you recover quicker. Here are some things you can do to ensure your immune system is strong and up to the task.
Getting enough exercise on a consistent and routine basis is the foundation for many things, like weight maintenance and building functional fitness, but it is especially beneficial for boosting your immune system. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, each person should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Do the math and you see that amounts to 30 minutes per day, five days per week. The key is moderation.
Studies have shown that vigorous exercising can have the reverse effect. But walking, yoga, swimming, golf, mowing the lawn … even gardening, all qualify as moderate exercise. So how does exercising improve your immunity against certain illnesses or diseases?
While experts aren’t sure, they think the increase in breathing helps flush out bacteria in the lungs and airways that could otherwise eventually take hold and cause you to get sick with a respiratory illness. Another theory is that exercising increases the flow of blood which gets the disease fighters – the white blood cells – circulating around your body more so they have a greater chance of detecting illnesses and can fight it while the invaders are still small in numbers. They also think that a rise in body temperature that happens while exercising could prevent bacteria from growing and causing illness.
What they do know is that exercising reduces stress which, when at chronic levels, increases the chances of getting overcome with sickness. Stress occurs when life activities overwhelms your ability to handle them. When people are stressed, their body does not produce as many lymphocytes – the white blood cells discussed in the previous section. This in turn increases your risk of a sickness taking hold. Of course the best way to reduce the effects of stress is to eliminate the cause of it in the first place. But that only works up to a point. To further reduce the effects of stress many people turn to stress relieving activities such as meditation. Meditate for 15 minutes each time for at least four days per week. It will lower the amount of cortisol in your system and reduce inflammation which can cause sickness.
Studies have shown that having sex can give a boost to your immune system, but that only works up to a point too. What researchers found is that having sex a couple times a week increased the immunoglobulin (IgA) levels in the blood. IgA’s are the antibodies produced by the white blood cells that recognize and bind to particular antigens like bacteria and viruses and destroy them before they make you sick. Interestingly enough, they also found that having sex less than once a week or more than three times per week did not produce higher levels of IgA.
Several studies all confirm that getting the right amount and quality of sleep helps boost your immune system. People that get between 7 to 9 hours per night have an improved white blood cell function which means their lymphocytes are better able to fight off bacteria and viruses before they can take hold and cause sickness. But just getting enough sleep is only part of the equation; you must work on the quality side too. Create a good sleeping atmosphere by keeping your bedroom cool, quiet and dark. Also set yourself up for a good night’s sleep by practicing a relaxing bedtime routine. Many people like to take a relaxing hot bath sprinkled with a few drops of essential oil while listening to some soft music. Also it is while you sleep that your body is repairing itself and doing some physical and mental maintenance and housework to keep it strong and resilient to infections.
Researchers have found that isolation and a lack of a social life can be detrimental to our health. While right now face-to-face contact with other people is forbidden in many parts of the world, it is easy to pick up the phone and call a family member or better yet, use an video conferencing app that allows you to see and talk to each other. It is almost as good as being there in person. And socializing does two other things – it improves your attitude and causes you to laugh more. Both have been found by researchers to help improve immunity.
In regard to attitude, studies have shown that people that are optimistic not only had stronger lymphocytes cell immunity, but they had more of them, making for a stronger army of defenders against attacking bacteria and viruses. As far as how laughing improves immunity, we must turn to studies again. They found that people get an immediate boost in their immunity system when faced with situations that made them laugh. They did not see a decrease when people were faced with an emotionally neutral situation, they did not see a boost in immunity protection either.
So the bottom line to boost your immune system is to get more exercise, meditate often, have sex a couple times a week, get enough quality and quantity of sleep and socialize frequently in situations where you laugh and feel good.