5 ways to supercharge your immune system this spring
A powerful immune system is an active body’s best friend. When your immune system is performing at the top of its game, you are too – shrugging off those annoying coughs and colds that get in the way of you and your best self. But even the most kick-ass immune systems need a little TLC from time to time, especially during the colder months. Here are five things you can do today to power up your bug-busting body technology right away:
1. Think systemic, not silver bullet
The immune system itself is exactly what it says it is – a system, not a single entity. Systems require balance and harmony to ensure the flow of processes, and researchers are still trying to work out the intricacies and interconnectedness of the body’s complex immune response. What does this mean for us? We need to think fine-tuning not quick fix. Look at every part of your lifestyle – diet, exercise, sleep and stress levels – and tweak them, dialling up or down the things that make us feel good and the things that we know our body hates.
2. Do what your mum told you to
It’s boring, but there are some really basic things we already know we should – or shouldn’t be doing – that are worth a refresher course on:
• Wash your hands. We’re exposed to billions of bacteria every day from door handles, ATM machines and simply coming into contact with other people. The good news is that hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. Embrace the soap.
• Stop smoking. It’s the single worst thing you can do to your body and your immune system. There are plenty of ways you can kick the habit. Find the one that works for you at http://www.quitnow.gov.au
• Go easy on the booze. Ever wondered why you get a cold after a big drinking session? It’s because alcohol blunts our white blood cells, which are the body’s infection-fighting ninjas. A healthy body and mind can handle a bit of alcohol in moderation, but stick to a maximum of 1-2 units a day and don’t binge drink – it’s not a good look for you or your white blood cells.
• Go to bed. It’s our favourite topic at Juno and for good reason: sleep is when our body repairs and restores, and a well-rested body is a body that can fight infection faster. Get our tips on how to step up your sleep game here [link to previous Juno blog on boosting sleep]
• Go to the doctor. Get regular medical screening tests for what’s appropriate for your age group, gender and risk group. Check what you need here http://www.bupa.com.au/health-and-wellness/health-information/az-health-information/health-checks
3. Cook your vitamins
Vitamin pills have their place, but the best way to get you’re As, Bs, Cs and the rest is to eat them. In fact, nourishing food is your number one immune system protection shield: it’s why people living in poverty and suffering from malnourishment are more vulnerable to infectious diseases. The exact effects of nutrition on the immune system of humans has not been studied in detail yet and even fewer studies tie the effects of nutrition directly to the development (versus the treatment) of diseases. But if you suspect your diet is not giving you all your micronutrient needs – say if vegetables are not your best friend or you prefer white bread over whole grains — then give your fridge and kitchen cupboard a makeover. We like nutritionist Michael Pollan’s advice here: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. It’s basic stuff: up you greens, don’t eat food that your grandma wouldn’t recognise as food (sorry Twinkies) and don’t eat anything with ingredients you can't pronounce. Find Pollan’s seven food rules here http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20090323/7-rules-for-eating#1
4. Sweat it
A sluggish body = a sluggish immune system. Not only does exercise improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, helps control body weight and protect against a variety of diseases, it also promotes good circulation. This is great news for our immune system as it means our white blood cells – the infection fighting superheroes – move freely through the body and increases their efficiency. Don’t overdo it though. Studies have been conducted to find out whether extreme amounts of intensive exercise causes athletes to get sick more often and some changes have been noted. Immunologists still don’t know what these changes mean exactly in terms of human immune response, but it’s sensible advice that if you’re feeling run down, go easy on the gym sessions or just wrap up and have a gentle walk outside. A day off won’t hamper your fitness goals and might actually enhance them.
5. Don’t sweat it
Modern science is now proving what the eastern medicine has known all along – there is a direct connection between mind and body when it comes to illness. IBS, skin conditions such as hives, and even heart disease have all been linked to the effects of emotional stress. The connection between stress and immune response has not been a major area of research for scientists. Measuring and defining stress presents a difficult challenge as what might be an extraordinarily stressful situation for you can be an everyday situation for another. Despite these difficulties in measuring the connection of stress to immunity, it’s still wise advice to think about how you can manage – and reduce – stress in your life. Thinking “meditation as medication” is one way of doing this. In fact, new research suggests that meditation actually shifts the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing. Give it a go. Your mind, body and immune system will thank you for it.