Every so often we all need a bit of an immune boost, but a strong and healthy immune system is something you can work towards all year long. There are some very simple habits you can practice every day to keep your immune system working well.
Your immune system is made up of cells throughout your body and works to protect you from viruses and bacteria, as well as from everyday dangers like too much sun or environmental pollutants. For the most part, if you take care of it, it will take care of you. Here are a few simple lifestyle habits that can keep your immune system in top shape, as well as ways to boost it when you need it.
Eat a Balanced Diet
Being properly fueled will make a big difference in how prepared your body is to fighting off infections. Building meals to include things like protein sources, antioxidant and vitamin packed leafy greens, and foods that promote a healthy gut microbiome will lead you towards a strong immune system. Here are a few things you’ll want to include in your immune-boosting meals:
Protein - Helps maintain strength of all cells, including immune cells. Your body also needs more protein than normal while you’re sick and when you’re recovering. Meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, and beans are all great sources for main meals. Including about 20 gm of protein in your smoothies is a great option as well. If you know me, you know I love smoothies, my top immunity smoothies are:
Zinc - Can reduce duration and severity of illness. Good sources include nuts, meat, chickpeas, lentils, and beans.
Vitamin C - The quintessential immune booster, vitamin C is well-known for its role in strengthening your immune system and is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, leafy greens, and bell peppers. If you’re looking to supplement as well, it’s more effective to take smaller amounts throughout the day, like with meals. I like this one from NOW Foods. A great option that includes both vitamin C and zinc are Vital Proteins Vitality Immune Boosters.
Vitamin B6 - Helps strengthen the linings of your GI tract and lungs, as well as your skin to keep out infections. Include foods like chicken, chickpeas, salmon, tuna, and green veggies to get a dose of B6.
Vitamin E - Supports the development and health of immune cells. You can find this antioxidant in foods like nuts, seeds, and spinach.
Vitamin A - Boosts immune system, keeps skin and linings of mouth, GI tract, and lungs healthy to protect against infections. Good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, eggs, and bell peppers.
Water - Not necessarily classified as a nutrient, but staying hydrated will also help support healthy immune function and flush out bacteria quickly. Bone broth also works as a hydrating snack! Bone broth’s like FOND and Osso Good are great options.
If you’re really feeling ill and want to replace electrolytes, I recommend LMNT - it’s like Gatorade without all the added sugar and artificial flavorings.
Your gut microbiome also has a huge job when it comes to immune health. One of its most important roles is to keep the lining of your intestines strong and tight so that bacteria and even food particles don’t make their way into your bloodstream. Feeding your gut microbiome the right foods helps to maintain that proper function. Focus on meals that include plenty of fiber and greens, which are foods even your microbiome loves. You may also consider taking a probiotic regularly to boost the population of helpful bacteria. Seed is my go-to for probiotics.
The Fab 4 philosophy makes this a lot easier. Instead of trying to remember all the different nutrients to include on your plate you can simply focus on filling your plate with protein, fat, fiber and greens. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to know which foods contain which nutrients. But by including the Fab 4 on your plate using a variety of foods, you can ensure you’re supporting your immune system without stressing too much about nutrients.
In our all too hectic lives, stress is just a fact of life. However chronic levels of stress can cause inflammation throughout your body, which can wear out your immune system and leave you vulnerable to illness and infections.
In order to protect the strength of your immune system, keeping yourself in control of your stress levels is important. Meditation is a simple technique you can practice to manage your stress. You can do this by keeping a gratitude journal, using a guided meditation app or YouTube video, or simply sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. If you’ve never meditated, don’t be surprised if it feels odd at first. You can start with just a few minutes at a time and build up.
Another option is to utilize adaptogens, which are natural herbs that help your body adapt to stress and resist fatigue. You can easily incorporate these into your life through supplements or adding the herbs to your smoothies - like in my Chaga Cacao or Ashwagandha Green smoothies. I often reach for Four Sigmatic mixes as well. They come in a variety of flavors, some including caffeine, and provide a number of different adaptogens to support your adrenal function.
Focus on Sleep
Adequate sleep is critical for letting your entire body rest, including your immune system. Studies show the developmental function of the immune system is linked closely with your circadian rhythm, with sleep periods - when stress hormones like cortisol are at their lowest - being the time when immune cells are produced and migrate throughout your body. Sleep is also the time when immune cell memory peaks, meaning immature immune cells develop by learning how to combat bacteria and viruses while you are at rest.
This immune memory development allows for the contrasting action of circulating, mature immune cells to peaks while you’re awake. In other words, just as you rest at night in order to function well and efficiently during the day, your immune system does the same thing. Inadequate sleep makes this process sloppy and less effective and leaves your immune system weakened.
If you have trouble sleeping you can begin a simple nighttime routine to help your body wind down from the day. This might include meditation, turning off your screens at a certain time (1-2 hours before bed is great), taking a calming bath, lowering lights to reduce stimulation. You can also try a magnesium supplement, which has been shown to help improve sleep quality. My favorite magnesium supplement is MBG sleep support+.
Move Your Body
Physical activity of any type - regular long runs, walks around the neighborhood, yoga flows or barre classes - improves your wellbeing in a number of ways. Notably, exercise causes a release of mood-boosting endorphins in your brain and is linked with decreased stress levels, which we already know is good for your immune system.
You’ll see the best outcomes if you’re moving your body regularly. Even a 15-minute walk outside has positive benefits (if you don’t believe me, listen to this podcast episode with Kelly McGonigal). And if getting out of the house isn’t an option there are plenty of at-home resources for you. Some of my favorites include the Body By Simone app and yoga flows on YouTube or from my friend Tom with Global Tribe Retreats.
Put It All Together
You may have noticed that these habits are linked. A nourishing diet will give you the energy you need to move your body regularly, which will lower your stress levels and help you sleep better. Focusing on improving even one area will have ripple effects throughout the rest of your life.
Having a strong immune system is crucial for fighting off infections, as well as lowering your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. The prescription is the same for both issues as well - eat well, move regularly, minimize stress, and get enough sleep. Focusing on these key areas will keep you feeling great no matter the weather.