Keeping the immune system strong and healthy all year long should be everyone’s top priority.
Regardless of season, harmful bacteria and viruses are around and capable of being spread. Fending away potential illnesses and infections requires a strong immune system to keep the body healthy.
How the Immune System Keeps You Healthy
The immune system is what protects your body against pathogenic threats – disease and infections caused by viruses, harmful bacteria, etc.
It is a complex machine that is powered by the blood and lymph systems. The liquids of blood and lymph transport the main components of the immune system throughout the body (1).
The main element of the immune system are immune cells, called “white blood cells.” These cells come in two main types – phagocytes and lymphocytes (1).
Phagocytes are transported by the blood in blood vessels and tissue. These immune cells absorb pathogenic invaders and toxins that enter the body. After these threats to the body are absorbed, the phagocyte destroys them.
Lymphocytes are carried by the lymph system and come in 3 main types – B cells, T cells, and natural killer cells (1). These cells primarily produce antibodies that attack bacterial, viral, and toxic invaders and produce special chemicals to kill these harmful compounds.
Without diligently keeping the immune system healthy, it loses its capacity to perform these tasks of destroying harmful substances that may make you sick. That’s why it’s important to boost your immunity by following simple, healthy practices that will keep your immune system strong.
It’s also important to practice good hygiene and a balanced healthy lifestyle that prevents contact with various illness-causing bacteria and viruses. This reduces stress to the immune system and allows it to continue working at top strength.
7 Simple Steps to Keep Your Immune System Healthy
These 7 simple steps can help you keep your immune system strong by avoiding contact with harmful toxins, but also build immunity as a first line of defense.
- Wash your hands (correctly!)
The number one way to keep yourself healthy all year long is to wash your hands. Washing hands prevents bacteria and other pathogens from entering the body.
Always wash your hands whenever you may come into contact with germs, like after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, using the restroom, and touching discarded waste or garbage.
Also, follow the recommended hand washing regimen (that actually kills germs and bacteria) (2):
- Wet your hands
- Lather your hands with soap (including the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails)
- Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands with warm water
- Dry hands
Similarly to the washing hands, make sure to also regularly clean high-touch surfaces that items harbor harmful germs and bacteria with the potential to make you, or others, sick.
Avoid touching your face
Touching your face is a common habit, but it also is the cause of many spread illnesses. The face’s mucous-lined orifices – the eyes, nose, and mouth – are the easiest access points for harmful bacteria to enter the body.
Pathogens that enter the body via the eyes, nose, and mouth are travel to the respiratory system. From there, they weaken the body and immune system.
To avoid this, be mindful about not touching your face and frequently washing your hands.
- Get enough sleep
Studies show that people who don't get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus (3). They also show that sleep quality can affect how quickly you can bounce back.
During sleep, the immune system releases a protein called cytokines and during an illness, the amount of cytokines released is increased. These extra proteins help to fight inflammation and/or infection. A lack of sleep reduces the immune system’s ability to complete this function (3).
- Reduce stress
Being stuck in a state of stress can wear down the body and mind. Stress overworks and weakens the immune system, which may impact the body’s response to immune challenges (4).
Stress is not completely avoidable, but it is important to embrace stress-reduction strategies. Try listening to music, taking walks, and practicing mindfulness (i.e., yoga, mediation).
Get regular exercise
Getting regular exercise is a key component of preventing minor and chronic diseases. Aerobic exercise, in particular, is especially helpful in keeping you healthy throughout the year.
Aerobic exercise boosts the immune system by increasing cardiovascular circulation of immune cells. In turn, this enhances the body’s immunity and defenses against seasonal challenges.
Drinking plenty of water helps the body stay resilient. Recent studies have found that staying hydrated may boost immune response (5).
Current recommendations are eight glasses of water for male and female adults daily. However, the body’s requirements for liquids increase under stress, during immune challenges or hot weather.
- Maintain a healthy diet
Maximizing your diet is an important component of keeping your immune system healthy. Several macro- and micro-nutrients in a well-balanced diet have immune-boosting qualities.
These include antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, protein, and probiotics.
These nutrients participate many immune functions, including from protecting against free radicals and aiding in white blood cell production.
Wrapping it all up –
Viruses and harmful bacteria are lurking all year long, regardless of season.
It’s important to keep your immune system healthy to defend against seasonal challenges that can stall day-to-day life. To keep immunity strong to ensure you are following a balanced, healthy lifestyle, including maintaining a healthy diet, reducing stress levels. Plus, remembering to keep your hands well washed.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD