The immune system is a collection of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. When your immune system is working correctly, it can identify and destroy harmful pathogens (such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites) that invade your body.
However, there are many factors that may weaken the immune system and increase your risk of developing health problems. These include stress, lack of sleep, poor diet, lack of exercise, obesity, aging, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Fortunately, there are several simple strategies that can help strengthen the immune system and reduce your risk of developing common illnesses:
Avoid drinking lots of alcohol
There’s nothing wrong with having a glass of wine every now and then, but drinking too much can weaken your immune system. Limit yourself to one drink per day for women and two for men.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health! Make sure you get enough sleep every night by going to bed earlier, turning off screens an hour before bed, limiting caffeine intake, and keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. If you have trouble sleeping, try taking a warm bath or reading a book before bed.
Lower your stress levels
Stress is an immune system killer. It can also make you more prone to colds, flu and infections. That’s because stress causes inflammation in the body, and inflammation is a major component of many chronic health conditions. Stress also causes your cortisol hormone levels to increase, which can lead to weight gain, blood sugar problems, and several other health issues.
To keep your stress levels low – and your immune system strong – consider meditation or yoga. Even taking a walk on a regular basis can help lower your stress.
Drink lots of water
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of fatigue as well as headaches, so it’s no surprise that dehydration can take a toll on your immune system as well. Your lymphatic system requires lots of water to function properly; without enough water, it’s almost impossible for you to fight off infection and illness effectively. So drink up! The average person needs at least half a gallon of water per day to stay hydrated; if you are exercising or spending time outdoors in the sun, you will need even more than that.
Regular physical activity increases the circulation of the white blood cells that help fight infection. Exercise has been linked with reducing colds in particular, with one study finding that those who engaged in moderate exercise five days a week for a single year had 43 percent fewer sick days than their couch potato counterparts. So make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of cardio per day (and preferably more) to help boost your immune system’s defenses against illness.
Eat lots of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help keep your immune system in tip-top shape. Try having a smoothie or acai bowl for breakfast instead of your usual muffin or cereal. You can also add some greens to your lunch or dinner to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
You should especially try to incorporate more garlic into your meals. It is a powerful food that has been used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. It contains a compound called allicin that helps fight against harmful bacteria and viruses. Studies have shown garlic to be effective at preventing and reducing the severity of common illnesses like the flu and common cold.
Take mindful steps to avoid infection
Because your immune system is responsible for keeping your body healthy, it’s important to take steps to avoid infection. According to the Mayo Clinic, the best ways to boost your immune system and reduce your risk of getting sick include:
Use hand sanitizer or disinfecting wipes frequently. These products are highly effective against viruses and can kill germs that may be present on your hands when you’re out in public. Washing your hands with soap and warm water is also effective. In fact, the Mayo Clinic recommends washing for at least 15 seconds before handling food, after using the restroom, and before eating a meal.
Avoiding people who are sick. If you live with someone who has a cold or flu, it’s a good idea to steer clear of that person if possible. The same is true if you travel in close quarters with others — make sure you don’t sit within two seats of anyone who appears ill.