Immunity is THE buzzword of 2020. After all, haven’t we all been searching for things like “how to boost immune system naturally” and “how to improve immunity” online during these trying times of the covid-19 pandemic? With no cure in sight, a sturdy immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 virus has become our only hope. And for this, we’ve tried everything—right from noshing on citrus fruits and vitamin D supplements to trusting Ayurvedic herbs like giloy and black pepper.
But what if I was to tell you that your immune system and the way it fights off infections needs more than just the right kind of foods to thrive? What if, I was to say that your lifestyle can actually help you optimize the functioning of your immune system—without making major dietary changes?
You see, we’ve been fussing a whole lot about foods to improve immunity, without actually paying much attention to what else we can do. And trust me—there are plenty of non-dietary measures we can take to enhance our inner mechanisms to stay safe from the dreaded coronavirus.
In fact, here are six things you can do right now to improve your immunity naturally:
1. Get enough sleep
When it comes to healthy living, getting enough sleep ranks on top—right next to exercising and eating clean. Now if you’re wondering what your sleep cycle has to do with your immunity then let science do the talking.
According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, a good night’s sleep can help your T-cells (responsible for killing infected cells in the body and regulating your immune response) function better.
You see, adrenaline and prostaglandin (a molecule responsible for inflammation in the body) keep your T-cells from doing their job. And both these elements are the lowest in the body when you sleep. So when the researchers analysed the T-cells of people who had slept versus those who hadn’t, they discovered that the former had a better immune response.
To cut it short, now is the time for you to sleep your way to a stronger immunity.
2. Stay away from the booze please
I know that in these tough times, that glass of whisky can really seem like your true companion—offering solace like no one else. But that one peg or glass of frothy beer can also spell doom for immunity.
A 2015 study from the journal Alcohol Research: Current Reviews states that drinking too much alcohol can disrupt immune pathways in the body, leaving you with a reduced capability to fight off infections.
Now before you stress on the words “too much alcohol”, wondering just how bad a shot or two of vodka could be, let me tell you that the daily limit of alcohol consumption for women ain’t that high. The CDC states that anything over eight drinks a week counts as heavy drinking for us female folk. By the way, they don’t mean a Patiala peg. You can read more about how much alcohol is too much, here.
3. While you’re at it, quit smoking too
Am I making it seem way easier than it actually is? Probably! But trust me, there is good reason behind why you need to quit smoking—especially when we have a pandemic caused by a respiratory affliction lurking around. Smoking not just puts the health of your lungs in danger; rather, according to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it also weakens the immune system.
Moreover, a 2017 published in the journal Oncotarget states that cigarette smoke disrupts the balance of the immune system, topples normal functioning, and reduces your body’s ability to fight off infections.
When you top it all with what we already know about smoking and cancer, you get a damn good reason to kick the butt—slowly and steadily, if not all at once.
4. Stress less!
I cannot stress enough on why you need to take less stress! Even if you are eating right, sleeping enough, are a teetotaller who has never smoked in her life—stress can be the real villain of your life, compromising your body’s ability to beat infections.
When we are stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol as a part of its natural fight or flight response to help you deal with the situation. Except, when we are perpetually stressed, cortisol—which can now be found in your body in high levels—can’t do its job particularly well because our tissues start becoming less sensitive to it. This in turn, impacts the immune system, which the stress hormone helps to regulate to a certain extent.
While scientists are still trying to find out more about the way chronic stress affects our immune system, let’s just suffice it say: stressing over something excessively has never done anything for anyone. But if you still find yourself in the clutches of constant worry, give these stress management techniques a shot.
5. Don’t ignore your workouts
If you have been thinking of dusting off your yoga mat and getting into asana for a while now—but are yet to follow up your thoughts with action—then let this article be a sign that you need to get moving NOW! Because guess what? Science says that people who exercise tend to produce more T-cells (remember them?) than those who don’t.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science also states that each time you engage in moderate exercise, you end up stimulating highly-active immune cells nestled between tissues—and thus enhance your body’s natural defence system.
Now, you don’t need to hit the gym or spend hours on that dusty-old yoga mat to reap the benefits. Any and all types of physical activity can get the job done, including dancing to your favourite music, running on-the-spot, and going up and down the stairs of building two to three times.
6. Eat home-cooked meals
And not just because the pandemic has made ordering-in and dining out a risky affair. But because, junk food or highly-processed foods tend to ignite the body’s inflammatory response which hinders the functioning of your immune system.
In fact, a research from the University of Bonn claims that the immune system tends to react to a high-fat and high-calorie diet just the way it to would to a bacterial infection. This aggressive response, when repeated—i.e. when you repeatedly nosh on your pizzas and burgers and butter chickens—leaves your immune system hyperactive, which can cause damage to your body in the long-term.
You see the secret to a strong immune system isn’t necessarily herbs and superfoods. Rather, it’s clean and home-cooked meals, regular exercise, proper sleep, and no stress. So, the answer to the pertinent question “How to improve immunity” that you’ve been Googling all this while is simple: by living a healthy lifestyle.