How to boost your immune system

Do you realize how astounding your immune system is? It’s your body’s natural shield against flu, colds, strep throat, fever and other illnesses. No matter what time of year it is, your body can be susceptible to germs and bacteria that make you sick — and no one wants to be sick.

However, that doesn’t mean you should sit back and wait for the inevitable. Be proactive and take these important steps to boost your immune system.

1. Eat a healthy diet

One of the top recommendations for boosting your immune system is to eat a healthy diet. You want to eat a balanced diet with lots of variety based on whole foods to support your immune system. A well-rounded diet filled with fruits and vegetables is always a good way to strengthen your immune system.

Being malnourished is one way to hurt your immune system. It needs lots of nutrients and vitamins to be as strong as possible. Make sure your diet is filled with foods that are sources of the following nutrients

  • Selenium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B2
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains are rich in many nutrients.

Ideally, you should try to get most of the nutrients you need from food before taking any vitamin supplements. There is limited evidence that specific vitamin and mineral supplements prevent sickness.

2. Get moderate exercise 

Getting regular exercise can help support immune health. The immune system’s biggest benefit is engaging in moderate exercise regularly. This can include walking alone or with your pet, swimming, weight training or biking. Aim for at least 30 minutes per day of an activity you enjoy.

3. Reduce stress levels

Too much stress can suppress the immune response making you more prone to catching circulating illnesses. Plus, you are less likely to sleep well or eat healthily when stressed, which further dampens immune function. 

Add stress management techniques such as regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing or simple relaxation to your day to keep stress at bay. 

4. Get enough sleep

Not getting the rest you need can suppress your immune system. In fact, one study found that just one night of restricted sleep (around four hours) suppressed important immune cells by 72 percent and increased markers of inflammation.

Aim to consistently get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. If you have trouble getting the needed rest, a nighttime routine and cool, quiet sleeping space can help. 

About an hour before bed, turn down the lights, drink a warm cup of tea and read a book. Keep kids and pets out of the bedroom for optimal rest. 

5. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol regularly suppresses the immune system and increases your risk for chronic illnesses. Additionally, alcohol negatively impacts the quality of your sleep, further suppressing your immune system. 

To keep your immune system strong and help prevent sickness, avoid alcohol entirely or drink moderately. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men drink less than two drinks per day and women less than one. Avoid drinking on consecutive days as well.  

6. Stay up-to-date on vaccines

Staying up-to-date on the necessary vaccines can help protect against various illnesses. Our centers offer flu shots for the whole family. We also provide many routine childhood vaccines, including Tdap. Please speak to your healthcare provider about the vaccines they recommend for you.

What to do if you’re feeling sick

These immune-strengthening tips may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget them until after you get sick. Don’t wait. Be proactive in keeping your immune system strong. 

If you get sick, find a local provider from one of our health system partners at a center near you. You can walk in without an appointment, or you can check in online. We’ll have you back to feeling better in no time.