If you want to live a long, healthy life (or even just get through this flu season unscathed) you need a strong immune system. The world is a crowded place and everyone is constantly exposed to bugs, germs, bacteria, and viruses. People who look after themselves and maintain high levels of immunity will have a much easier time fighting infection, and may even avoid getting sick in the first place.
The pandemic has shown us that those with a strong immune system can get something that’s severe enough to kill another person and be completely asymptomatic. While many people seem to think that this is the luck of the draw, it isn’t – in most cases (beyond an existing genetic condition) we have the power to make our bodies strong, virus-fighting machines.
The problem is, we often don’t realize we’re doing things that actually harm our immune system. Read on to check that you’ve not got any habits that put you at risk of getting taken out of commission by a cold or flu this season.
5 Things You Don’t Know Are Hurting Your Immunity
- Poor Gut Health
This is absolutely number one. You are what you eat is true. Your gut is full of bacteria that are vital for health in general and your immune system in particular. We now understand that over 70% of our immunity relies on a healthy gut, and that means cultivating a population of healthy bacteria.
Too many people eat the wrong sorts of foods. That is partly down to the frenetic lives many of us lead, making us regard food as just fuel to get us through the day. Food is much more important than that. To have healthy flora in your gut requires fresh produce, whole foods, probiotics, and cutting down on “bad” fats – trans fats and saturated fats.
These unhealthy foods can not only cause you to pack on the pounds, but limit your guts permeability, meaning you get far less of the nutrients in your food than a healthy person would. To ensure you’re getting all the micronutrients that are essential for a healthy immune system, cut these foods down (or out) of your diet.
Bad Sleeping Patterns
People have become much more aware of how important sleep is to our health and immune system. Numerous studies demonstrate that for healthy bodies and minds good sleep patterns are crucial. If you are pulling all-nighters or cutting down the number of hours you sleep your immune system will suffer.
You should develop a routine that ensures a good night’s sleep. Stop looking at screens a good while before you go to bed, relax and prepare your mind and body for sleep, and don’t eat just before turning in. We are all different so you need to work out what works for you. Many find that meditation or listening to calming music before trying to sleep helps them to sleep better and for longer.
I recommend everyone get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.
Considering a High-Stress Lifestyle as Normal
Living in the 21st century is fast-paced and often stressful. That stress contributes to poor gut health and bad sleeping patterns. But it also means that the cortisol levels in your body go into the red. High cortisol equals low immunity. Too much cortisol depletes the micronutrients that are necessary for sustaining your immune system.
High stress means that your need for those micronutrients rises but the lifestyle that goes with the stress levels doesn’t allow for this. It can be hard but you need to try and reduce stress. You have to be kinder to yourself, have some me-time, and develop ways to relax. There are always periods in our lives where we have to endure high-stress for a time, but if you’re in a career that causes you to feel close to your limit at all times, it may be time to reassess or you’ll sacrifice your health in the long run.
Eating Sugar & Processed Foods
We’re back to the fast-paced lifestyle and lack of time. Most of us eat way too much processed food. Sure, it’s convenient but nearly all processed food is full of sugar, salt, and bad fats.
Processed foods hurt your gut health, key for your immune system, and are low in the micronutrients which every cell of your body needs to thrive. For healthy immunity, you need to ensure adequate micronutrients and your diet should include fresh fruit and vegetables, whole foods, and low-fat protein. Healthy eating is indispensable for a healthy body.
If you don’t have time to prepare your own food, look into a meal delivery service that can deliver healthy, fresh meals to your door. Often, people find they have a neighbor or relative that is more than happy for a little extra income for preparing an extra plate, so ask around if you can’t find a healthy service near you.
You’re Moving Far Less Than You Realize
So many of us have a sedentary lifestyle. We drive everywhere, sit at a desk, and slump on a couch. If you don’t make the effort to go for a walk, move your body, or go to the gym, your circulation is compromised, and that impacts your immunity.
Just 2,000 steps a day will make a difference to your immunity but aiming for 6,000 – 10,000 will help you stay healthy. Step counters are cheaper than ever before, so treat yourself to one and set a goal each day.
You have to get into the habit of exercising and make it part of your daily routine. I can promise that you will feel the benefits almost immediately. Exercise is all-important for your immune system, weight control, well-being, and state of mind. You will feel energized, alert, and sleep better. And exercise will boost your immune system significantly.
Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be going to run on a treadmill for an hour or joining CrossFit – going for a walk or doing some testing yoga poses will help get the blood pumping, so try to find activities you enjoy. Even putting on some music and dancing while you clean will help!
Knowing that these five things adversely affect your immunity and understanding what you can do about them will give your immune system a massive boost. The solutions are simple and don’t require a drastic change in how you live your life but will make that life better and healthier.
A healthy immune system helps us beat all those pathogens and protects our bodies. If the pandemic has done one good thing it’s that it has made us more aware of how important immunity is to each and every one of us.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.