Healthy Habits to Maintain Your Immune System

As we welcome the fall season, you may notice that some people around you are bogged down by the flu. In fact, flu viruses are most common during fall and winter, with influenza activity beginning to rise in October. Several other respiratory viruses tend to circulate around flu season, some of which can lead to severe respiratory issues in young children and prove fatal to individuals aged 65 and older. How can we better protect ourselves from these viruses?

Our bodies are constantly working to defend us from disease-causing microorganisms. Our immune system, the body’s natural defense system, is responsible for fending off and removing pathogens, and neutralizing harmful substances that enter the body from the environment around us. It is also responsible for fighting damaging changes that occur within our bodies, such as cancer cells. The immune system comprises a complex system of cells, tissues, and organs, including white blood cells, spleen, and even our skin. Your immune system naturally weakens as you age, but numerous other factors in your life could also compromise your body’s ability to protect itself. Individuals with a compromised immune system have a higher risk of being infected frequently and experiencing more severe symptoms. Here are some ways that you can maintain and strengthen your immune system:

Nourish Your Body

Eating a nutritious and balanced diet is a requisite for the healthy functioning of the cells and systems in our bodies, including our immune systems. The standard American diet consists of excess saturated fat, sugar, salt, and processed foods while lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a crucial component in a healthy diet as they are packed with naturally-occurring nutrients and compounds, such as vitamin C, zinc, and diindolylmethane (dim), that promote the growth and function of the immune system.

A diet that primarily consists of highly processed foods, on the other hand, can adversely impact the immune system. It is unrealistic to suggest a complete revamp of one’s diet as it may be unsustainable for individual lifestyles. Instead, the goal is to increase intake of minimally processed, nutrient-dense foods and reduce reliance on highly processed foods to achieve a well-balanced diet. For example, start off by cooking vegetarian dishes twice a week, and swapping biscuits and chips for fresh fruits. Making gradual changes in your diet will be more sustainable for your lifestyle, and help you maintain and strengthen your immune system.

Calm Your Mind

You may notice that you tend to fall sick more often when you are undergoing periods of intense stress. When you are stressed, your body releases hormones like cortisol that impairs the function of immune cells. Prolonged periods of stress will thus negatively affect your body’s ability to fend off diseases, increasing your chances of being infected and the severity of the infections.

There are many factors that contribute to stress and it may not be easy to resolve the underlying issues. Nevertheless, it is crucial to manage your stress levels so that it has a limited impact on your health.

Keep Your Hands Clean

Acquiring healthy habits is important to maintaining your immune system, but there are also steps you should take to avoid infection. Doing so will keep your body strong and healthy, and ready to defend against other threats.

The best method to guard against infections is to block the harmful viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites from entering our bodies. For example, you should always wash your hands before and after coming into contact with dirt and germs, such as going to the bathroom, gardening, stroking pets, and visiting and caring for a sick individual. You should lather your hands, and scrub your palm, the back of your hands, under your fingernails, and between your fingers for at least 20 seconds to sufficiently kill off the bacteria on them.

Hotspots for germs and bacteria may not always be where you expect it to be. Researchers found that the average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat, and shared keyboards are more likely to have a higher population of bacteria than personal keyboards. This presents a problem in settings where shared desktops are common, such as hospitals, libraries and call centres, as diseases may be transmitted more easily.

It is crucial to keep up good hygiene practices like washing your hands before and after you eat and not eating at your desktop to prevent the transmission of bacteria and diseases. There are bacteria all around us and most will not make us sick so having bacteria on your desktop is not necessarily harmful. There are, however, some bacteria that will make us sick and precautions should be taken to reduce the transmission of those harmful bacteria. Washing your hands conscientiously, and cleaning your desktop and keyboards (especially if you share it with others) will help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Keeping your immune system well and functioning will help you fend off diseases. Practice good habits, such as eating a well-balanced diet, managing your stress levels, and washing your hands, to keep your immune system healthy.