We are in the midst of it, the season of sickness. Many of us are burned out from a long December. A long December filled with too much stress, not enough sleep, and probably too many return trips to either the bar, the buffet, or both. It is almost as if we can feel our immune system at war, that feeling of either impending sickness or the inability to get over a cold that has seemed to linger for weeks. Almost everyone we know is in the same boat, walking around with headaches, sniffling, and complaining about a dry and tickly throat. Meanwhile, health officials are predicting a flu season of epic proportions. Great. So what can be done to boost the immune system, our body’s inherent defense against everything from the common cold to the flu to heart disease and cancer? A few simple behaviors and lifestyle choices can go a long way toward helping your body fight the good fight against incoming disease.
Perhaps the best and most important (and often weirdly the most difficult) way to boost the immune system is to get enough sleep. Sleep is probably the single most important thing one can do for optimal health, and getting ample amounts goes a long way toward keeping the immune system strong. During sleep is when the body and mind heal and strengthen themselves. It’s when you actually recover from whatever you’ve been doing that day, and there is simply no substitute for it. Think about it this way: if it wasn’t important, would we have evolved to do it 8 hours a day (⅓ of our lives), during which we are totally unproductive and totally unprotected and vulnerable?
We also know that stress, through the magic of the mind-body connection, is completely toxic to our immune systems. Anything you can do to reduce stress will strengthen the immune system and lead to better health. Maybe take a little time off from work, even if it seems unwise or unmanageable. Do things you enjoy like seeing friends and family and engaging in hobbies. Exercise. Listen to music. Watch some comedy on television, whatever it takes. The more you reduce stress, not only will you be happier, you’ll also sleep better which will in itself boost your immune system.
It is also of course important to eat a healthy diet. The nutrients your immune system needs to fight infection and disease all come from the diet, so if you’re not feeding your body properly, don’t expect it to function properly. Fruits and vegetables (of course) are key, providing many vitamins and minerals important to proper immune function. Protein is very important as well, as overall protein status is important for immune function and helping to keep the body optimally healthy. Protein-rich foods are also often rich in other helpful nutrients, like zinc, that contribute to proper immune function as well. Healthy fats like olive oil and fish oil are beneficial as well, leading to less inflammation throughout the body and promoting good overall health. In short, the kinds of healthy foods that should already be the main part of your diet are also good for the immune system. If a food is bad for your waistline, it’s probably bad for your immune system too.
In conclusion, it’s all about treating yourself well and prioritizing your health. Too often the focus is external and on how to circumvent, avoid, or cheat disease. We may avoid crowds and human contact. We may freak out about door handles and shared cups and utensils. Or wash our hands a zillion times a day. We may find our self spending a small fortune on cold remedies and treatments. We may even get a flu shot (a controversial topic for another day). But disease has always existed and will always exist. We are all literally bombarded by thousands upon thousands of germs intending to do harm each and every day. The best way to be healthy is to take an internal approach, and boost your immune system from the inside out. That way your body, mind, and spirit will be strong and able to resist most or all of what the world throws at it. Boosting the immune system through preventative measures like the ones mentioned above will ensure not only less acute disease (like the cold and the flu) but also less chronic disease (like heart disease and diabetes). So, after work tonight, sit down with your friends and watch a few episodes of Family Guy or go old school and watch a few episodes of Seinfeld. Laugh. Have a hearty and healthy meal filled with lean protein, healthy fats, and fruits and veggies. Then get a good night’s sleep and wake up tomorrow morning ready to combat the world…or at least, the common cold.
Article Courtesy: Andrew Steingrube
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