Top 5 Methods for Strengthening Your Immune System
At the end of the day, the best deterrent to any disease, illness, or flu strain is yourself! Having a strong body and immune system starts with making good decisions to positively impact your body’s natural ability to function and fight off disease. Here are 5 tips to help keep your body healthy in the preceding months:
1. Drink more water
Water is by far the most abundant and important molecule in your body. About 60-65% of your body is water. The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water, skin contains 64% water, and muscles and kidneys are 79% water. Water is involved in every cellular process and is an important determinant of cellular health.
Therefore, if you want your body to be healthy, strong and resilient, water intake is the first place to start. So how much should you drink? A good starting point for water consumption has always been to drink half your bodyweight in ounces. If you are a highly active individual, this amount should be increased relative to your training.
Common questions about fluid consumption often surround what “counts” as water. Although you can substitute a small amount of fluids like unsweetened tea, or lowly sweetened sports drinks, it is best to have a large foundation of your fluid intake be water based. If you need to add some flavor, try a non-calorie additive.
Drinks such as alcohol and carbonated drinks like pop or soda should be eliminated or used very sparingly. Carbonated drinks do more to dehydrate your body and actually increases your need for water. Alcohol also dehydrates the body as it increases urinary output and has negative effects on your immune system. Bottom line, make sure you drink water, and plenty of it.
2. Increase Vitamin Intake
Your body operates and functions through numerous chemical interactions and processes. Cellular function, healing, and protective mechanisms are no different than a manufacturing plant trying to produce and end product – it needs the raw materials necessary to complete the production process.
In order for your body and the immune system to function properly, it needs the raw materials necessary to carry out these chemical interactions as well. The raw materials that are often missing the most in the American diet are vitamins and minerals. If you do not eat or supplement enough of these raw materials, your body will have to shut down the assembly line for its chemical processes until these raw materials are available. This would be the equivalent to a factory trying to make a car without any axles or seats available. Once the factory workers reach the step where the axles go on, production stops until more axles are available.
So how do we make sure that we are providing the proper nutrients for our body? In general, you should eat a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. But if we are specifically looking to boost the immune system, there are a few vitamins that can be very beneficial in high doses, specifically Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Vitamin D3. If you are not currently supplementing these vitamins, make sure you start. They are all readily available and affordable.
Exercise is important in all aspects of health, but did you know that exercising also improves your ability to fight of a cold? Exercising is a stress reliever, improves cardiovascular function, improves circulation in the body, and also helps reinforce a proper body composition. All of these factors are incredibly important to improving your health.
One of the biggest indicators that someone will have a harder time getting over a cold or the flu is obesity. Obesity causes inflammation which makes it harder for your body to respond to an infection, disease, or virus. Maintaining cardiovascular fitness is also important in fighting off respiratory conditions. Finally, simply allowing your nervous system to release stress helps strengthen the immune system.
So, even though we are all finding ourselves at home more than usual in the preceding weeks, make sure you devote time for walks, strength training (even if it is body weight), riding a bike, or simply moving. Go outside and play catch or a game of baseball with your kids. Your physical and mental health will benefit significantly.
4. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is by far the most effective rejuvenator available to the body. No drug or medical invention can match the healing power of sleep. Even if there were no mention of an illness or flu, you can still benefit from sleep. Athletes and active people need it to recover from training, students need sleep to improve their academic performance, and you need sleep to improve your body’s ability to function at its best too.
As usual, the recommended amount of sleep is 7-8 hours per night. Want to make sure your body is able to resist or fight off illness? Simply sleep more! Even if you cannot get more than 7-8 hours of sleep at a time, 30, 60 or 90-minute naps are a great way to increase sleep. The dirty little secret about sleep that no one seems to pay attention to, is that it is great, no matter what your goals are. Even after this period of time passes, and I promise you it will pass, if you happen to be pushing your body in other areas such as athletics, your career/business, or academics, sleep will help! So make sleep a priority and start seeing the benefits now.
Breathing is such an amazing tool at this moment for multiple reasons. First and foremost, everyone needs to just take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine. One of the best things you can do right now (top 5 according to this article) is to substitute your social media, news media, and COVID-19 coverage with literally and figuratively taking some time to breathe. Use this as an opportunity to spend more time with your family and take 10-20 minutes throughout your day to do some deep breathing. Belly (diaphragmatic) breathing is hugely beneficial to relieving stress. In fact, breathing is the first thing that we address in our clients as part of their first visit and the Be Activated system of analysis of the body and function. This is because even simply the way you breathe on a regular basis can either signal stress or safety to the body. Short, shallow breathing into the chest is actually a signal to your brain that you are stressed. That’s why when you go to scare a family member or friend you see them take a sudden breath up into their chest. When people are mentally stressed, they also show it by breathing up into their chest for the same reason.
Chest breathing is also, itself, called a labored breath because your body must exert extra energy to accomplish a breath and must use accessory breathing muscles in the upper portions of your chest to do breathe. Belly breathing utilizes the diaphragm to expand the lower parts of the lungs and is so efficient, that it’s actually called passive breathing.
Why is breathing so important? Even a single good belly breath can bring a world of change to your body (ever been told to take a deep breath when stressed?). Even throughout our day during regular breathing, if we understand that a chest breath can signal stress and a belly breath can signal relief and safety in our environment, at an average rate of 16 breaths per minute, being able to signal to your body over 20,000 times that you’re relaxed instead of stressed is a huge deal. Again, relieving stress on the body greatly impacts your immune system’s function and resiliency.
So how can you breathe better? Simply breathe in through your nose and thing about a balloon expanding in your belly and then exhale out your mouth, compressing the abdomen on the way out. Want to take your stress reduction to another level? Take 5-minute breaks throughout your day to just lay down and breathe. In fact, belly breathing for 20 deep breaths before bed is often difficult for many to do without falling asleep (hint, hint).
Remember, you are your greatest strength in fighting off illness. Making sure you take care of your body will drastically reduce the burden imposed on you and your family over the next few months. We at Hybrid Performance Group will also be maintaining regular hours and Dr. Detweiler will be checking and responding to all emails as usual to help keep you all healthy and to answer any questions you may have! You can also schedule a Telemedicine Appointment to access and ask Dr. Detweiler questions from the comfort of your own home -absolutely free!