Simple ways to boost your immune system

The pressures of modern living can take a toll on all of us. Stress, smoking, alcohol, insufficient sleep, and an unhealthy diet are all enemies of the immune system. They can weaken it, leaving us vulnerable to illness and disease.

Like our own private army, our immune system fights off any health challenges which come our way such as viruses and bacteria which cause colds and run-of-the-mill infections or potentially fatal diseases. It is skilled in the art of healing, is always on call, and is ready to take preventive action to avert a crisis when necessary.

We need our immune system to be at its best so it can work at full power when we need it most. This is particularly important now as we face the twin challenges of winter, when colds, flus, and respiratory infections are prevalent, and the continued presence of Covid-19. Otherwise, we may be vulnerable to illness and may find it difficult to ward off any bugs that come our way.

It is important to look after our immune systems to ensure that they will serve us well, allowing us to enjoy a happy, healthy life.

There are a number of ways in which we can do this:

1. Wash your hands often. We all have learned the importance of this since the start of the pandemic and washing our hands often in warm, soapy water should be second nature to us by now.

The World Health Organisation guidelines indicate that washing your hands properly takes about as long as singing the Happy Birthday song from start to finish twice. Then, rinse your hands under running water. Dry them with a clean towel or paper towel. Hand gels with at least 60 per cent alcohol content can be used if soap and water are not available.

We have between two and 10 million general bacteria between our fingertip and elbow and the number of germs on our fingertips doubles after using the toilet. Research indicates that damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands and that millions of germs hide underneath our watches and bracelets. In fact, there could be as many germs under your ring as there are people in Europe!

2. Maintain a healthy weight. Weight gain occurs when you eat more calories than your body burns. Being overweigh or obese puts you at risk of a number of conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer, including breast, pancreatic, bowel and oesophageal cancer. It also impairs your immune system.

Being a healthy weight means getting the balance between your diet and activity levels right. To lose weight, you will need to change your attitude to food and physical activity. Do not skip meals. Both this or eating very little are unwise weight loss strategies because they can slow down your metabolism. Ultimately, your body may become more efficient at storing fat and you may pile on the pounds when you stop dieting.

Experts say that for most people who are overweight, losing one or two pounds a week is excellent progress. Some days will be more challenging than others but stay focused on your goal and remind yourself of the benefits of being a healthy weight.

3. Ideally, cut down, if not out, cigarettes. The ill effects of smoking are well documented in terms of people's overall health. Lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD ) are just some of the major conditions linked to tobacco use. People's risk of developing respiratory conditions such as bronchitis or pneumonia are increased if they smoke because of the immune suppressant effect of cigarettes. Covid-19 affects your lungs and airways so if you are looking for an incentive to quit look no further than this virus.

4. Get adequate sleep. Aim to get at least seven hours each night. People's sleep requirements vary and while some may feel fine with just six hours, others need much more to function well the next day.

The benefits of sleep are enormous. It allows your body to repair itself and stay healthy. Sleep is linked to improved immunity, helping you ward off illness and disease. It is also associated with balanced hormone levels, clear thinking and reasoning, improved mood, and good skin. If you do not get enough sleep, your body will not have the opportunity to recharge its batteries.

Try to have a sleep routine, going to bed and getting up at the same time daily. This will promote a good sleeping pattern and you will feel rested and refreshed.

A winding-down ritual is a good idea, too. Soothing music, a warm bath, scented candles, a hot drink, or a good book may be all you need to help you drift into a deep sleep. Ensure your bedroom is uncluttered, dark, and not too warm or cold so that slumber will come easily to you.

5. Have a healthy diet. Variety is the key to a good diet. Every type of food contains its own unique make-up and may be high in some minerals or vitamins but devoid of others. Eating a wide selection of foods will ensure you receive all the fuel your body needs.

It is a good idea to include foods with a variety of colours in your daily food intake. This is particularly important when it comes to fruit and vegetables because the substances which give them colour also give them many of their health inducing properties. Try to include green, yellow, red, orange, and purple fruits and vegetables in your diet regularly.

Aim to adhere to the 80/20 rule. If you can manage to eat healthily 80 per cent of the time, then your body will be able to cope with occasional questionable food choices. Allow yourself a day when you eat what you fancy (aim for moderation, do not devour the entire box of Roses ).

Make sure you have a breakfast each day. This meal not only breaks your long overnight fast and aids concentration, it also lays the foundation for healthy eating during the day. Skipping what is often termed the most important meal of the day may result in poor physical and mental performance later in the day. Wholemeal or bran cereals with milk and topped with fruit together with an orange or unsweetened juice and some wholemeal bread are good choices.

6. Exercise regularly. This will not only make you feel good (your body releases chemicals called endorphins which trigger a positive feeling in the body when you exercise ) but it may also boost your immune system and help reduce inflammation.

Exercise offers significant benefits. It lowers people's blood pressure and weight, reduces cancer risks as well as stress and anxiety levels, boosts energy levels and good cholesterol, and improves blood sugar control. It also aids relaxation levels and sleep yet only one in three adults achieve the recommended level of activity.

Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, jogging, or swimming each week.

7. Keep in touch with family and friends. Social isolation can have an adverse effect on your physical and mental health. It can suppress your immune function as well as causing sleeplessness and putting you at increased risk of low mood and anxiety. Connecting with people is important on a number of levels and benefits our sense of wellbeing.

The physical distancing regulations introduced during the pandemic put people of all ages at increased risk of loneliness and social isolation, particularly older adults. They may have already been coping with major life changes such as retirement, the death of a partner, or ill health, all issues which can cause loneliness in their own right.

 

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