immune system boosters

6 Steps for a Rock Star Immune System

Tis the season… for flu and colds. But that doesn’t mean you have to get sick! Your incredible body is equipped with all the tools it needs to fight off infections. You can’t always control exposure to viruses, but you have tremendous power to ensure that your immune system is robust.  No one enjoys being knocked out by the flu, so here’s some simple, practical and super-effective ways to make sure you stay healthy this season.


1.      Eat Great foods

Your very first line of defense is your diet.  Your immune system is made up of organs, cells, proteins and tissues –everything it needs to defend itself against viruses, bacteria, parasites and foreign substances. It does this without very little conscious effort on your part, but it does need some necessary cofactors to accomplish this. Food provides your body with nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.  For example, Vitamin C supports a healthy immune system for many reasons, but one if its functions is to scavenge free radicals.  It’s a potent antioxidant that the body cannot live without. No need to purchase expensive powders, Vitamin C is readily available in many foods including citrus fruits, tomatoes, and other vegetables. In fact, red bell peppers provide 190mg of Vitamin C per 1 cup serving.  Lesser known to most are phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are chemicals in plants that give them their color. Think anthocyanins in blueberries, or beta-carotene in carrots, and lycopene in tomatoes.  Phytochemicals are important for fighting inflammation and boosting immune function. The best way to ensure you are getting plenty of phytonutrients is to eat a rainbow of colors every single day. Get creative and see how many nutrient-dense vegetables you can include each meal.

2.      Reduce Stress

Stress is a tricky thing. Stress is not necessarily bad when experienced in small doses, but the type of stress that most of us carry is known as chronic stress. Chronic stress harms health in many ways and it weakens the immune response. This means that your body can’t effectively fight infections which leads to more frequent and longer lasting infections.  Stress is rather subjective—some have higher thresholds which makes them more resilient to stress effects, while others have a lower threshold. It’s all about your perceived stress.  Either way, chronic stress is known to upregulate the immune system, leading to inflammation in the body.  Try practicing mini-meditation breaks throughout the day, get in nature, or practice yoga.

3.      Move More, Sit Less

It’s a fact, most Americans are not getting enough physical activity. Our environment encourages us to sit in the car, sit at work, and sit at home.  Too much sitting and too little movement is risky business! Exercise is a known immune booster by increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage. It also leads to a sense of well-being and combats the harmful effects of stress. “I know I need to exercise, but I don’t have the time.” I hear ya! But all that’s required is a simple paradigm shift.  Stop thinking of exercise as something negative, or something you have to do. When my clients are struggling with exercise, I first encourage them to think outside the box and look for opportunities to move in their current environment. It helps to deconstruct “exercise” and simply think of it as a way to work your heart muscles, increase your blood flow, and strengthen your muscles and bones.  When we start with this in mind, it’s much easier to find ways to exercise. Suddenly, raking leaves, gardening and cleaning house can all be opportunities to exercise.  Your countertop can be used for pushups; a chair for tricep dips.  Practice planks and squats in your living room! The options to exercise are endless, but in the winter I often recommend walking, hiking, dancing, group fitness classes, and yoga.  So grab a friend or neighbor and get moving!

4.      Enjoy sunshine

Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is unique fat-soluble vitamin. In recent years, it’s become clear that Vitamin D serves many important roles in the body and in fact, it behaves more similarly to a hormone than other vitamins. In terms of immune health, vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased auto-immunity and increased susceptibility to infections. Depending on the geographic location in which you live, it can be difficult to achieve adequate levels of Vitamin D in the body. It’s even harder in the winter months when most people bundle up in clothes, preventing UV rays from contacting the skin.  Vitamin D is found in some foods, but it’s not as readily available as other vitamins. The best sources are salmon, eggs (yolk), fish, mushrooms, and fortified dairy products.  It’s wise to have your Vitamin D levels tested by your doctor and from there you might need to supplement your diet to achieve optimal levels. You can start by aiming for 15-30 minutes of sunlight daily and making sure to consume plenty of Vitamin-D containing foods.

5.      Sleep Tight

Every night, sleep provides your body with a way to hit the reset button. Research shows that people who don’t get enough sleep are at risk from developing diseases and are less equipped to fight off infections. Generally, 7-8 hours of sleep is appropriate for most individuals, however, many of us live in an unnatural environment that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Artificial lighting, electronics, caffeine, and chronic stress can all interfere with our ability to get quality sleep. Sleep hygiene is the practice of behaviors habits that help us to get quality sleep. If you struggle getting 7-8 hours of sleep, try these simple steps sleep hygiene tips. Sleep deprivation has been linked to weight gain, food cravings, and a whole list of other diseases so it’s critical to get to the root of poor sleep.

6.      Community

Last, but certainly not least is the need for social connectedness.  When people think of health, they usually think in terms of diet and exercise, but equally important is the social environment in which they live. Researchers have known for quite some time that individuals who are socially active and integrated members in their community are healthier and live longer lives. Social connection improves physical, mental, and emotional health and can boost your immune system to help you fight off disease. Your social connections also affect your health behaviors in some non-obvious ways. Let’s say you’re trying to limit intake of added sugars (too much sugar weakens your immune response), but every time you go into the break room your co-workers have cookies and donuts sitting out. You may be able to pass it up once or twice, but by the end of your shift you’re tired, hungry and a little more stressed. Your willpower muscle is fatigued and you give into the cravings. With this in mind, you’ll do better if you can engineer your environment for success. First, take an inventory of your current social environment. Do you have a healthy social environment or is there room for improvement? Do you have friends or family members engaged in healthy behaviors, or are they dragging you down? Once you do an inventory, you can recognize areas where you must strengthen the social bonds. Great relationships will improve your health.

As you enter the fall and winter months, consider this a time for reflection on how to improve your health, and then make a plan. Great health doesn’t just happen but must be executed through habits and behaviors. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

At Carolina Active health, we are committed to providing quality, holistic and individualized care for you. We are a team of chiropractic physicians, exercise specialists, and dietitians. We can help you get and stay active!

Author: Christy Strouse, RD

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