How to Boost Your Immune System in 6 Steps

My Diet Matters
how to boost immunity

I just returned from a lovely oceanfront vacation. When I left for my vacation, there were only a few cases of Covid-19. When I returned home, it was as if the world had literally changed within the week. Watching the stock market crash, I felt helpless. I was in disbelief that there was no hand sanitizer on store shelves. I began feeling like I was in the middle of a natural disaster or war. It’s daunting to think that a pathogen could literally turn the world upside down and be so threatening to our health care system. While so much of this is out of our control, as individuals, there is plenty you can do with self care and diet to boost your own immune system. It’s time to get on board by following distancing rules and taking care of your own well-being as much as possible!

Tips to boost immune system

1. Ramp up the quality of your diet

how to boost immunity

If there ever was a time to stop eating junky processed food, it’s now. A healthy diet skewed to plant based foods, healthy fats, and less fatty animal protein is key to a healthy immune system. This will give your body a better chance to fight off all viruses you are exposed to. If need be, back up your new healthy eating plan with a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. As the quality of your diet improves, it won’t be necessary to take a supplement every day. Speaking of supplements, there is no benefit to taking massive amounts of vitamin C. In fact, excessive vitamin C can aggravate gout, kidney disease, and give you a stomach ache. It can even affect certain prescription medications such as anti-clotting drugs. If you are eating lots of fruits and vegetables, you will be getting plenty of vitamin C.

2. Heed your vitamin D status

vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. With that stated, I’m not telling you to run to a lab right now for a blood draw. But, I am telling you that if you know your vitamin D levels are typically low, then do something about it. As vitamin D is made by the sun shining on your skin, grab some rays outside on a sunny day. Even if you are in self quarantine or just doing distancing (as you should be), a sunny day can be a great tool for making vitamin D. Sit on your patio or take a walk. If it’s not possible to get some sunshine, then the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement suggested above will always have some vitamin D. In summary, if past testing has shown your blood values run low, then either get outside or take your supplement.

3. Boost your immune system with exercise

how to boost immunity

The immune system is very responsive to exercise. While your gym may be closed, you can still exercise. If you are lucky, you have equipment at home to use if the weather is bad. Otherwise, walking outside is perfect for our new world circumstances. Grab a sweater, skip the sunscreen (to make the vitamin D you need) and just get going. And, if you can’t go outside for some reason, then just get moving in the house. Any movement will put you in better shape than sitting around worrying. Charge that Fitbit and challenge yourself on a daily basis. This will help your physical and mental health.

4. Mind your gut to boost your immune system

The composition of bacteria in your gut are crucial to a healthy immune system. Eating a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is the perfect way to feed your gut bacteria properly. If you’ve been on certain medications like anti-inflammatories or antibiotics, chances are your gut bacteria are not working to capacity because many of the good bacteria will have been adversely affected (wiped out). At this point, consider adding probiotic rich foods to your diet such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and yogurt. And, if you don’t care for these food sources of probiotics, then consider using a good quality probiotic supplement.

5. Sleep to boost your immune system

According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep plays a critical role in overall health. While getting enough sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, it may very well affect your immune system. Without enough sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines which are a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. These cytokines are produced and released while we sleep. The Sleep Foundation also suggests that if sleeping 7-8 hours nightly isn’t happening, you can take 30 minute naps during the day. This will offset stress and the negative effects on the immune system when a full night of sleep is lacking. And, according to a Mayo Clinic physician, a lack of sleep will also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.

6. Limit exposures when possible

Clearly, we are in unchartered territory. First and foremost, hand washing needs to be kept up. Covid-19 or not, this is just a good policy to stay well. Steering clear of anyone we don’t need to be around is also key. Sorry, even the grand kids.

As I headed home from my vacation, I had time to think a great deal about limiting exposure to Covid-19. If you have your bacterial wipes, think about doing the following:

  • Hold the disinfectant wipe in your hand while pumping gas. Or, use another physical barrier such as a paper towel. Pitch immediately.
  • Remember to wipe off as much of your grocery cart as possible if you are out buying food.
  • If you are headed into a store, many have handicapped buttons you can push so as to avoid touching the door. If flexible, use your foot or your elbow to hit these buttons!
  • Use the drive through options even for picking up prescriptions. Today, I needed to pick up a prescription and I put cash in an envelope so as to avoid another point of contact in the transaction.
  • If food is being delivered, consider wiping down parts of your delivery such as plastic containers.
  • And, don’t handle money without then washing hands afterwards. There is recent research that the Covid-19 lives on copper for 4 hours. Pennies are made primarily of copper plated zinc; silver colored coins are made using copper and nickel combinations. I know first hand at least one progressive Chicago area hospital is banning the use of all currency due to thinking it may be a means of spreading the virus. For additional information on various surfaces and Covid-19 survival, click here.

Take away

We all need to do our part here. As is often the case, we are solely responsible for certain diet and lifestyle actions we take. As we fight this as a country, you can do much to help boost your individual immune system. In addition to hand washing and sanitizing surfaces, implement self care as a means to boost your immune system. Eat properly as much as possible. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Make sure you add probiotics to your diet. Don’t be tempted to turn drive through eating into poor eating! Take a walk to increase your vitamin D levels. Move your body in order to boost your immune system. Try and rest as much as possible. The current health care system is quickly being overwhelmed. If you take care of yourself, our health care system will be better prepared to take care of others.

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!

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