5 healthy habits that boost the immune system
Chronic inflammation weakens the body’s natural defences and can even suppress the immune response altogether.
Fever, cough, runny nose, headache, sore throat… the risk of suffering from respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold or flu, increases exponentially in autumn and winter. Rain, cold wind and lower temperatures are factors that put the immune system to the test and make it easier for viruses and bacteria to develop.
Dr. Vicente Mera, head of the Genomic Medicine and Healthy Ageing Unit at SHA Wellness Clinic, shares five tips to help ensure that the body’s natural defences are always in optimum condition.
Acute inflammation is the normal immune response to all kinds of infections and injuries, while chronic inflammation is linked to cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer and can eventually suppress the immune system altogether. To reduce this type of inflammation, eat more whole, plant-based foods because they contain antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and neutralise free radicals, and fibre, which modulates the gut microbiota and boosts resistance to fight pathogens that enter or are activated through the digestive tract. Healthy fats from fish and plant sources also decrease inflammation, while fermented foods, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, are rich in probiotics that strengthen the immune system. In addition, being obesity or overweight, particularly when it is caused by the consumption of added sugars and refined carbohydrates, significantly increase the risk of illness due to their negative impact on inflammation and the immune system.
- Moderate physical exercise
Prolonged, intense exercise can suppress the immune system, while consistent, moderate physical exercise reduces inflammation and helps the immune system cells to regularly regenerate. The most beneficial exercise? Running, walking, swimming and cycling.
- Stress management
Prolonged mental stress promotes inflammation and can even suppress the immune response, particularly in children. So relieving stress and anxiety is essential for good immune health. Meditation, yoga, pranayama breathing techniques and mindfulness disciplines are extremely effective and help to better manage emotions.
Little or poor-quality sleep is associated with an increased susceptibility to everything from the common cold to traffic accidents, whereas restful sleep strengthens natural immunity. Therefore, getting 50 hours of sleep a week and maintaining good sleep hygiene is essential for keeping the immune system operating at peak performance.
- Nutritional supplements
Some studies suggest that certain supplements may help strengthen the body’s overall immune response, such as vitamins C and D, zinc, garlic, echinacea, green tea, beta-glucans, colostrum and fermented papaya.