Despite the unprecedented changes going on around the world, we can boost our chance of staying healthy.
In order to function well, our immune systems require balance and harmony. Here are several ways to promote that balance through diet, exercise, supplements and other healthy-living strategies.
1. Remember your A-B-C-D-E’s. A lack of micronutrients — i.e., vitamins — has been linked to reduced immunity. Taking a multivitamin supplement, along with eating a healthy diet rich in natural sources of nutrients, boosts overall health as well as the immune system. In particular, vitamins A, B2, B6, C, D and E have been studied in relation to immune response, and seem to play a key role in helping us avoid illness.
2. Get some sun. Spending some time in natural light is one of the key ways our bodies manufacture vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in helping our immune systems produce antibodies; low levels of vitamin D, on the other hand, have been correlated with a higher risk of respiratory infection. Sit outside for a bit, take a short walk, park farther away from stores, etc.
3. Open your mouth and say “om.” While the physical effects of stress are always being studied by scientists, studies so far have proven that chronic stress can lead to a variety of negative effects on physical and emotional well-being, including a reduced immune response. Stress-reducing practices like meditation, massage, and even music can help us relax and improve our immune function.
4. Try turmeric. The bright orange-yellow spice that gives curries a distinct flavor and mustard its color also has anti-inflammatory properties, and there is increasing evidence that it helps prevent illness, too. Particularly relevant for older adults, extracts of turmeric also seem to play a role in preventing cancer, slowing Alzheimer’s, and alleviating arthritis pain.
5. Run a relaxing bath. A nice hot bath, with Epsom salt or relaxing aromatherapy scents, can go a long way toward reducing our stress — and making us sleepy. Sleep is one of the key ways our bodies repair themselves, and sleep deprivation activates the stress response, depresses immune function and elevates inflammatory chemicals.
6. Eat more vegetables. Vegetables, as well as fruits, nuts, and seeds, are loaded with nutrients that we need to keep our immune systems in top health. In particular, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, kale, and broccoli help support liver function, a key part of our bodies’ natural detoxification process.
7. Micromanage your minerals. In addition to a range of vitamins, it is important to get enough of key minerals that are important to daily health. Selenium may help prevent cancer, and zinc is a critical ingredient for the proper function of our immune cells.
8. Make room for ‘shrooms. Certain types of mushrooms, particularly Japanese mushrooms like shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms, have recently been shown to help support the production of immune cells. They’re also loaded with antioxidants. Eat raw in salads or cooked in all kinds of dishes.
9. Try herbal remedies. Scientists are still studying the effectiveness of many herbal supplements traditionally used as health boosters, like echinacea and ginseng, but whether or not they have a measurable effect on the immune system, a soothing tea can help with relaxation, sleep, and stress reduction. Of course, you should always talk to a doctor before making herbal treatments a regular part of your arsenal.
10. Spice up your cooking. Pungent but tasty garlic and ginger are both delicious, immune-boosting additions to the family diet. Raw garlic in particular contains antimicrobial and cancer-fighting agents, and ginger has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat nausea, colds, and flu symptoms.
11. Keep on moving. Regular exercise contributes to our overall health in numerous ways, and a healthy body means a smoothly functioning immune system. Some forms of exercise, like pilates and yoga, are also particularly suited for reducing stress and improving the strength, balance and flexibility that we often lose as we age.
12. Consider taking probiotics. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, are not only an important part of a healthy digestive process but also our immune systems, though scientists are still studying exactly how and why this happens. A study on athletes found that probiotic supplements helped prevent and combat colds, but you can also get probiotics from naturally fermented food sources, like yogurt and kimchi.