Getting sick is the worst. It knocks you off your A-game and results in a loss of productivity. Plus, the recovery time sets you back at the gym and leaves you with lingering fatigue.
If you're looking for natural immune-boosting tips, this article is for you. Keep reading as we explore 12 science-backed tips to promote a resilient immune system year-round.
1. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet
The immune system is a complex network of membranes, organs, glands, cells, proteins, and live microbes that work together to protect you from foreign invaders. You need a constant supply of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids to maintain and repair this delicate system.
That's why our first immune-boosting tip is to prioritise nutrient-dense whole foods while minimising your intake of processed foods and refined sugar. Ideally, 80% of your diet should be made up of fresh fruit and vegetables (especially brightly coloured and dark greens varieties), whole grains, legumes, fish, grass-fed dairy products, eggs, lean meat, nuts, and seeds.
2. Exercise Regularly
Yep, you've heard it many times before, because it's true! Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, strengthens your lungs, boosts circulation, and stimulates lymph flow. Research also shows exercise enhances immunity by reducing stress, regenerating immune cells, and increasing "immunosurveillance".
But there's a caveat. Prolonged periods of strenuous exercise actually suppress immunity. So, just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 times per week is ideal. Whatever you choose – whether hiking, cycling, walking, yoga or lifting weights – make sure it's something you enjoy!
3. Prioritise Sleep
Getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night not only makes you feel great; it allows your body to recharge and repair so you can function at full capacity. It's no surprise that a lack of sleep suppresses immunity, leaving you run down and vulnerable to infections. Unfortunately, according to the Sleep Council, 40% of people in the UK battle to get adequate sleep.
Luckily, implementing these tips can help you get consistently good sleep:
- Spend time outdoors in the morning to regulate your circadian rhythm
- Minimize caffeine consumption
- Avoid artificial blue light from screens 1-2 hours before bed
- Create a wind-down routine 30 minutes before bed
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and completely dark
- Remove electronics from the bedroom
- Stick to a regular bedtime and wake-up schedule
4. Manage Your Stress Levels
Have you noticed you come down with infection after infection when you're burning the candle at both ends? Learning to manage daily stress is essential for optimal immune function! When you're living in a constant state of "fight or flight", the adrenal glands release a cascade of stress hormones, which suppress immune function to save energy.
Some of the best stress-relievers include:
- Time in nature
- Adequate sleep
- Journaling about your emotions and stressors
- Using a free meditation app
- Speaking to a counsellor
5. Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which has positive knock-on effects on your immune system and overall health.
We love this simple stress-relief "hack" that you can do any time.
- Breathe in through your nose for a count of 5, expanding into your belly
- Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 5, making a gentle "shhh" sound
- Repeat for 5-10 minutes
6. Quit Smoking
The research is clear: if you want a strong immune system, smoking has to go!
This habit irritates your lungs and impairs the function of tiny hair-like structures in the airways that capture and expel pathogens and mucus. Plus, smoking creates oxidative stress in the body, depleting your stores of immune-boosting antioxidants like vitamin C (4).
7. Go Easy on Alcohol
If you struggle to bounce back after an infection, you should examine how much alcohol you're consuming every week. Excessive alcohol consumption puts pressure on your body and results in suppressed white blood cell function (5).
We're not saying that you need to become a teetotaller – moderate alcohol consumption may promote immunity. But limiting your intake to 1-2 drinks a few times per week could make a big difference to your well-being!
8. Up Your Intake of Vitamin A, B6, B12, D and C as well as Iron and Zinc
Important immune nutrients like vitamin A, B6, B12, D, C, iron, and zinc work synergistically to encourage a healthy immune response. However, your body cannot produce them and they need to be consumed daily. Plus, frequent infections rapidly deplete these vitamins and minerals.
Your best bet is to up your levels before you get sick. However, if you come down with the sniffles, dosing yourself with these nutrients using a convenient immune-support supplement may reduce the duration and severity of the infection.
9. Consider Elderberry Supplements
An elderberry supplement is a must-have during flu season and when travelling.
Made from purple Sambucus nigra berries, elderberry extract is rich in immune-boosting nutrients and antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, polyphenols, and flavonoids. Interestingly, studies show that it binds to viruses and may reduce the duration of respiratory tract infections (8, 9). No wonder it’s one of the best selling herbal supplements during winter!
10. Try Astragalus Supplements
Adding the adaptogenic herb astragalus to your daily routine may prevent infection-causing bacteria and viruses from making your body home. Plus, research published in Phytotherapy Research suggests astragalus extract reduces seasonal allergies.
11. Spend More Time in Nature
Spending time in nature is truly magical; it naturally boosts your mood and relieves stress. But did you know it can influence immunity?
"Forest bathing" (or Shinrinyoku in Japanese) is the simple practice of going to a forest and being amongst the trees. This has been shown to enhance the levels and activity of natural killer (NK) cells. Plus, being outdoors helps you produce the "sunshine vitamin" — vitamin D!
12. Nourish Your Microbiome
Our last (but not least) immune-boosting tip is to support the trillions of "friendly" microorganisms in your digestive tract. It might sound crazy, but this diverse microbiome is an important part of your immune system. Think of it this way: the community of probiotic bacteria in your gut acts like an army of defenders that keep pathogens at bay. If you experience frequent viral, bacterial, and/or yeast infections, the problem may lie with your microbial ecosystem.
Follow these tips to rebalance your gut microbiome and bolster your immune system:
- Consume a high-quality probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus and bifidobacteria strains
- Eat foods rich in prebiotic fibre such as oats, apples, bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, and asparagus
- Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and yogurt
When your immune system is compromised, you'll try anything to feel healthy. Now, you don't have to weed through the suspect advice from Dr Google. Implementing these lifestyle changes consistently (when possible) will go a long way to reducing the number of days you're "man-down" each year!
This article was created for informational purposes only and does not necessarily represent the views of For Chaps Ltd. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.