Your immune system helps your body fight off viruses, bacteria, and toxins, so you don't get sick. A strong immune response helps prevent illness and keeps you healthier.
How to Have a Strong Immune System
The good news is that you can do things every day to strengthen your immune system, so it's ready to take on viruses and other invaders if your body is exposed to them.
In addition to physical and mental health benefits, exercise improves immune system functioning. When you're active, it's easier for your body to:
- Move bacteria out of your lungs
- Circulate antibodies and white blood cells more efficiently
- Reduce the production of stress hormones
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Aerobic exercises include:
- Brisk walking
- Any activity that makes your heart pump faster
A diet with too much sugar, salt, carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats may increase inflammation throughout your body and make your immune system less effective. Researchers linked chronic inflammation to:
- Heart disease
- Bowel diseases
A healthy diet should include whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Irritability and fatigue aren't the only consequences of a poor night's sleep. While you snooze, your body produces cytokines, proteins that help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation. When lack of sleep becomes a chronic problem, you may notice you tend to catch colds and other illnesses more often. To help improve your sleep:
- Follow the same sleep schedule every day
- Make your bedroom comfortable and quiet
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and other stimulants before bed
Chronic stress increases inflammation and decreases the number of white blood cells available to fight infections. Keep stress under control by making time for activities and hobbies you enjoy. Yoga, meditation, or massage can also help you feel calmer.
Not surprisingly, many Americans have felt more stressed than usual this past year. In fact, 67% of people surveyed by the American Psychological Association reported feeling stressed due to the pandemic. But even if you have good reason to be stressed, learning how to manage it is an important step in avoiding illness and staying healthier overall.
Reduce (or Quit) Drinking and Smoking
Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes may affect your body's ability to fight off illnesses and infections. According to the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health, smoking makes it particularly difficult to fight viral and bacterial infections that affect the lungs. Lowering your intake of these substances, or quitting completely, is an effective way to strengthen your immune system.
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