As we all know, winter is the height of cold and flu season. It’s never fun, but over the past couple of years our immune systems have had even more to deal with. So it’s never been more important to try to make sure your body has all the tools it needs to fight off whatever comes its way.
That’s where your immune system comes in: it’s there to defend you against microorganisms that can cause diseases. The truth is, it does a great job on its own and there’s no proven science that says lifestyle changes can improve it beyond its natural peak.1 So the popular term “boost your immune system” is somewhat misleading. It’s not like a muscle that can be built and improved.
However, there are factors that can cause your immune system to work not quite as well as it should, while healthy lifestyle choices can help it function at its very best. Here are the six key factors:
- Exercise: We all know the importance of exercise when it comes to your overall health. But the most important factor when it comes to your immune system may be that exercise promotes good circulation, which allows the cells in your immune system to do their jobs freely, with fewer obstructions.1
- Vitamins: Some of the most important vitamins for fighting off illnesses are vitamins C, B6 and E. But experts recommend you get these vitamins through food, rather than supplements.2
- Diet: You can get your vitamin C through so many sources, including citrus fruits, strawberries, spinach, bell peppers and broccoli. Vitamin B6 can be found in chicken, salmon, tuna, green vegetables and chickpeas. For vitamin E, munch on some nuts, spinach and seeds.2
- Stress: If you deal with a consistently high stress level, your body produces elevated levels of cortisol, which blocks the immune system from functioning properly.3 Managing your stress is not always easy, but tips to help get you there include meditation, devoting time to hobbies or sports you enjoy, or taking up yoga.
- Hydration: Drinking a healthy amount of water (about 3 litres a day for men and 2 litres for women)2 is beneficial in many ways. But if you feel like you’ve had your fill of H20, you can also get it through fruits and vegetables like celery, cucumbers or watermelon. Why water? It helps your white blood cells and other immune system cells flow through your body to fight off the germs.3
- Sleep: Cortisol is also elevated by lack of sleep, plus there are various other key immune system cells that are produced and distributed while you sleep. As a result, when you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system can be compromised. Experts usually recommend about seven hours of sleep for adults.4
1 Harvard Health Publishing, “How to boost your immune system,” April 6, 2020.
2 webmd.com, “How Much Water Should I Drink Daily?” June 25, 2020.
3 Cleveland Clinic, “3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity,” January 2, 2020.
4 everydayhealth.com, “8 Ways to Keep Your Immune System Healthy,” November 5, 2021.