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We all know to wash our hands and keep our distance from those who are sick to keep healthy. However, all those precautions take place outside our bodies. What can we do on the inside to keep from getting sick and to boost our immune systems? Two of the greatest influences on our immune system are our behaviors and our nutrition. Taking some simple steps may help to keep you well.
Sleep is one of the most underrated boosters of good health. When we sleep, our body repairs and recharges itself. When we don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep or more, we put our bodies under increased stress. Lack of sleep has been tied to inflammation, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cortisol levels, weight gain, and heart disease. So, increase your shuteye to increase your immunity.
You’ve all seen a pool of stagnant water; it becomes fetid and polluted. When you don’t exercise, your body becomes like that stagnant pool. Exercise gets things moving–it pumps the blood, increases our respiration, and it helps to move white blood cells, the germ warriors, of our immune system throughout our bodies, so it is better able to fight intruders. The saying goes, “Move it or lose it.” What you may lose if you don’t exercise is your health.
When we are under stress, our bodies produce the hormone corticosteroid. Studies have shown that increased levels of this stress hormone can depress your immune system. Sometimes stress is unavoidable, but how you respond to it makes all the difference. Take stock of what pushes your buttons and see if there is some way to mitigate that stressor’s effect.
Your autonomic nervous system has two aspects: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic controls the “flight or fight” reaction in your body to a perceived threat, and your parasympathetic nervous system keeps you calm and in homeostasis. Where they intersect is in your breathing. Most of the time you breathe without thinking about it, but breathing can also be controlled intentionally. When you are under stress, your sympathetic nervous system is active. One way to reduce this feeling of panic and boost your immune system is to engage your parasympathetic nervous system and practice taking deep, long breaths. It will calm your panic and signal your body to relax and bolster your health.
Meditate or Pray
It is said that where the mind goes, the body follows. If your mind is in turmoil, often it sends your body into turmoil too. Studies show that meditation or prayer calm the mind and give balance to the body. Which in turn boosts the immune system. Setting aside 15 minutes or more to calm the mind or connect with a higher power is a good start and will go a long way toward providing peace and well-being.
Diet & Supplements
Hippocrates is credited with saying, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” What we consume probably has the greatest effect on our health and consequently our immune system. Ideally, it is best if we get our essential vitamins and minerals through our diet. However, sometimes it can be difficult to get those vital nutrients from our food alone. That’s where supplements can help. Certain vitamins and minerals have indicated that they may benefit our immune system.
Our bodies produce some vitamins, but Vitamin C is not one of them. We need to acquire it from the food we eat or from supplements. Scientists still debate and study whether Vitamin C can boost the immune system, but several studies show that it may help. However, studies have also shown that it is more effective to take a regular dose of the vitamin rather than feeling a case of the sniffles coming on and taking mega doses of Vitamin C.
Unlike some other vitamins, we can acquire vitamin D from three sources: food, supplements, and sunlight absorbed through our skin. With so many available sources, you’d think we’d have enough Vitamin D. Nevertheless, many of us are still deficient in Vitamin D—especially those of us in Pittsburgh, where we get less sunshine than other parts of the country. Vitamin D boosts the immune system, largely by preventing infection. Many physicians recommend boosting your health with supplemental Vitamin D.
Inflammation serves a purpose in the body, but too much of anything can have a deleterious effect, as is the case with excessive inflammation. Increased inflammation can wreak havoc in the body. Zinc is not a vitamin but a mineral, and it has been shown to mitigate inflammation in the body and increase immunity.
You should always consult with your physician before taking any supplements, but by making a few modifications to your behavior and paying more attention to your nutrition, you may be able to reinforce your immune system and revitalize your health.
By Janice Lane Palko