The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System

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COVID-19 has had many of us googling around looking for the “secret” to boosting our immune systems. And though there is no shortage of supplements touting an array of health benefits, there is no magic bullet for supercharged health. 

Instead, a holistically healthy lifestyle — one that involves regular exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep, and stress reduction — is key to building and maintaining immunity. COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, and self-care has never been more important. Here are five science-backed things you can do to prime your body against disease. 

Stay active

Regular exercise has many benefits, from improving cardiovascular health to minimizing midlife weight gain. Now we have evidence that exercise can help fend off illness, too. One study showed that adults who worked out at least five days a week experienced fewer sick days and less severe illnesses than adults who were sedentary. 

Aim to exercise five days for at least 30 minutes. Choose an activity you like and will consistently do, whether that’s walking, biking, or lifting weights. A mix is best, but what really matters is that you move.

Read How to Exercise Smarter — Not Harder — After 40.

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Eat a healthy diet

“Balanced nutrition, especially in terms of adequate vitamin, mineral, and protein intake, enhances the resistance against infections,” according to a study published in the Journal of Obesity & Weight Loss Therapy. A diet with a variety of whole, unprocessed foods — fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean proteins — supports all of the body’s functions, including immunity.

Read The Anti-Aging Vitamins You Need Now.

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Minimize stress

Stress has a sneaky way of impacting your health, causing everything from weight gain to heart troubles. It’s possible that stress also impacts the immune system. In a 2012 study of adults who were exposed to a cold virus, those who were stressed were more likely to experience inflammation and an increased risk of getting sick. Exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and journaling go a long way in helping balance the nervous system and protecting immunity. So will spending time in nature.

Read Ease Anxiety in 5 Minutes a Day With Meditation.

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Get enough sleep

Sleep is essential for good health. It’s when our bodies repair themselves, and a rested body is less likely to become sick. One study showed that the less sleep you get, the more susceptible you are to the common cold. Try to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep every night. If you struggle with sleeplessness, stick with a consistent bedtime routine, remove screens from your bedroom, and embrace a healthy diet and exercise. 

Read How to Get Better Sleep — and Have Sweeter Dreams.

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Avoid smoking and limit alcohol 

People with underlying health conditions, including those caused by smoking and drinking, are more likely to die of COVID-19 than those without existing troubles. Since smoking can seriously weaken your immune system, if you haven’t stopped already, now’s the time. It’s also time to reign in your drinking if you were among those who began to drink more while the country was mostly locked down. The World Health Organization has a fact sheet on alcohol and COVID-19, warning that heavy alcohol consumption increases the risk of respiratory failure, one of the most severe complications of COVID-19.

As we grow older, our immune systems do not work as well as they once did — which means we have to work a little harder at staying healthy.

Photos: Svetikd, Sveta_zarzamora, Marcin Wiklik, Bymuratdeniz, Moyo Studio