It’s that time of the year again. Yeah yeah, the holidays are great and we get to spend time with family or loved ones. But it’s also getting colder outside, people are getting sick, and the holiday season is stressful. Not to mention the crowds– where you have a greater chance of interacting with someone who is already sick. (My sympathies to anyone working in retail right now!) This can all lead to a compromised immune system. That’s why we decided to put this guide together: so you can keep your immune system health in tip top shape now and all year long!
Why Immune System Health is so Important
Your immune system is made up of several organs, tissues, and cells that protect the rest of your body from outside threats. We usually only think of the immune system as protecting us from the flu, colds, and physical illnesses but its jobs run a lot deeper than that. Yes, certain antibodies can essentially “eat” intruders and protect your body from getting sick. But a weakened immune system can also cause inflammation all over the body including your brain which could exasperate mental health issues like depression. Research also suggests that your immune system health plays an important role in regulating your metabolism. So a compromised immune system could potentially lead to unnecessary weight gain as well as diseases like diabetes and cancer. Feeling exhausted and uncomfortable? A weak immune system can also lead to adrenal fatigue which causes your body to produce more cortisol (stress hormone) which in turn suppresses your immune system even more. Are you seeing a pattern here?
With so many important jobs, I try to keep my immune system health in tip top shape. Here’s how:
First of all, exercise can help flush out any toxins or bacteria hanging around in your respiratory system. But it actually goes a few steps further. Physical activity can also cause your immune system to move antibodies and white blood cells at a quicker rate– which might allow them to identify threats and act more quickly. The rise in body heat after a good workout can also help kill off intruders– just like when you have a fever. And lastly (most importantly for me) exercise can slow down your body’s production of stress hormones like cortisol. I usually work out first thing in the morning. This helps keep me mentally balanced and focused throughout the day, gives me a good burst of energy, and keeps my stress level low.
When the weather gets crappy, no one wants to jump outside for a jog or hop in their car to head to the gym. But we still need to get that exercise in! The trick is to find something that works for you. I love going into my basement every morning to lift weights. But what works for me might not work for you. I do however have one suggestion: schedule a time of day and stick to it. Whether it’s a 20 minute brisk walk after dinner, 30 minutes of dancing in your living room, or an hour at the gym, schedule it!
I wouldn’t, however, recommend yoga as physical activity in itself, but rather as a supplement to your physical activity. (Yes, there are exceptions for certain types of Ashtanga yoga, cardio yoga, etc, which burn several calories in one session.) As always, any physical activity– no matter how minimal– is still getting more done than sitting on the couch. But in order to keep your immune system in shape, I would recommend getting your heart rate up or breaking a sweat for at least 20 minutes each day.
Manage Your Stress
Finding ways to manage your personal stress will help take some of the burden off your immune system. Too many activities or responsibilities? Turn things down or say “no” and stay home once in a while. Your mental health (and physical health) will thank you in the long run. A regular yet simple meditation practice can also help keep your emotions and anxiety in check. Which can help you focus on things that are the most urgent with a clear and steady mind.
Since your immune system consists of many organs and cells, your body needs lots of essential vitamins and minerals to keep your immune system running smoothly. But don’t add an immune-boosting supplement to your daily routine just yet. A diet full of whole grains, veggies, and healthy proteins will give you all the vitamin C, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin E, beta carotene, and selenium you need to keep things in top shape. See our article on building an immune system health boosting diet for more information on this important topic!
As mentioned above, an immune-boosting supplement shouldn’t be added to your daily routine. There isn’t much evidence that they actually help in the long run. Plus a functioning immune system health is one that works in balance. A hyperactive immune system can potentially cause allergic reactions to non-toxic substances and might even exasperate diabetes, lupus, and arthritis. But if you’re otherwise healthy, an immune boost probably can’t hurt in certain emergencies. Someone in your house or workplace sick? Working in retail or food service over the holidays? Pop some extra vitamin C, zinc, or echinacea just to be safe.
*Article originally appeared at Minds.
However, if your immune system is compromised and you are fighting a serious health issue, then immune-boosting supplements most likely will be needed to help your body defend itself. As always, I recommend working with an alternative holistic doctor, and use lab work to identify problem areas and to track progress.