Autumn is upon us, and along with falling leaves and crisp morning air, we are reminded that cold and flu season will soon be making an appearance. This year there are additional health concerns because of coronavirus and the potential impact it may have on all populations, especially when coupled with the annual flu season.
So how can you better protect yourself? A healthy immune system is one way we can bolster our bodies to fight off infection and disease. The good news is there are simple steps you can take to improve your immunity that will also enrich your overall wellbeing.
WHAT IS THE IMMUNE SYSTEM?
Our immune system is a complex and collective defense system that protects the body from foreign invaders. It relies on white blood cells that produce antibodies to combat bacteria, viruses and other attackers. When your immune system is strong, it’s more difficult for illness to take hold. If your immune system is weak or compromised, your body does not have the resources to fight off illness.
You can shore up your immune system with lifestyle habits designed to keep you healthy and make you feel good inside and out.
WELL BALANCED NUTRITION
It’s no surprise that good nutrition is a cornerstone of a healthy immune system. The phytochemicals (or flavonoids) found in fruits and vegetables have been found in numerous studies to reduce inflammation. We recommend consuming 5–7 servings of vegetables and 2–3 servings of fruit daily for optimal nutrition.
You will also want to consume a balanced diet of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and yes, fats). All of these are needed for well-balanced nutrition; fat is especially important. Restricting your fat intake has been associated with a decrease in immune function.
With all the rich agriculture in our area, there is no shortage of healthy immune-boosting foods to indulge in. (See our delicious recipes for inspiration on eating healthy, local foods!)
Water is critical to a healthy immune system as it carries oxygen to cells throughout your body. When ample water is delivered, your organ systems are able to function at optimal levels. If you are dehydrated, systems can become compromised, including the immune system, which can make you more susceptible to illness or infections.
If you’ve heard someone tell you to “push the fluids” when you are sick, this is why. Flushing toxins out of the body before they can build up will keep your immune system healthy.
Additionally, limiting alcohol consumption, because of its adverse effects on the immune system, is another easy step to help build your immunity.
Lack of sleep has repeatedly been shown to have a detrimental effect on immunity. Shorter sleep duration and sleep continuity have been shown to increase infection risk. Without enough rest, you are more likely to become sick after exposure to a virus and it can take longer to get well with reduced sleep.
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins known as cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Some cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, but a lack of sleep can decrease production of these protective cytokines.
HEALTHY & STRONG
Relaxation and mindful movement are other actions you can take to improve your immunity. Take advantage of the magnificent fall weather by enjoying the great outdoors! It’s good for your health.
You can learn more about ways to support your immune system by visiting the Empowered Health website and downloading the October Immunity Resource Guide.
Dr. Schneider is the CEO and founder of Empowered Health, located on the Parkway in Richland. She is board certified in Internal Medicine through the American Board of Internal Medicine and has completed a fellowship in Integrative Medicine through the University of Arizona studying under Andrew Weil, MD. She has training through the Institute of Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
Dr. Schneider grew up locally in Richland and graduated from Hanford High School. She received a Bachelors of Science in Biochemistry from Washington State University. She feels passionate about promoting health and enjoys working with patients to achieve their own health goals.
Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash.