A strong immune system is the first line of defense against infection.
As the air starts to cool and we prepare to move into flu season with COVID still on our backs and a vaccine likely months away, uncertainty looms. Rather than harp on that which is out of our control, let’s focus on what we can do. Masks. A good lather. Breathing room. We’ve got all that, but what about boosting our bodies’ natural defenses? A strong immune system could prove the difference between victory and defeat.
Take your vitamins
Vitamins C, B6 and E are key to maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin C can be found in foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, kale, tomatoes and more, and should be taken in daily as our bodies don’t produce it naturally.
B6 is vital to supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and found in chicken, cold-water fish like tuna and salmon, and chickpeas. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off infection, found in spinach, nuts and seeds.
Experts don’t know exactly why regular exercise boosts our immunity to certain illnesses, but, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, theories include: physical activity may flush bacteria from lungs and airways; exercise causes changes to antibodies and white blood cells; the brief rise in body temperature during workouts may prevent bacteria from growing; and it slows the release of stress hormones, which make us susceptible to illness. And, of course, maintaining a healthy weight is protection itself.
Get enough sleep
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends seven hours or so of sleep for adults 18-60. During sleep, our immune systems release cytokines, or proteins that help promote sleep, the Mayo Clinic notes. What’s more: We need more cytokines when we have an infection or inflammation, and sleep deprivation may stall production of these cytokines, according to Mayo.
Limit your booze
Alcohol sales have spiked since the pandemic began, but according to the Mayo Clinic, “Excessive alcohol can make it harder for your body to resist disease, increasing your risk of various illnesses, especially pneumonia” – a common COVID-19 complication. Alcohol damages the immune cells and fine hairs in the lungs that are responsible for clearing the airway of pathogens.