July 23, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

6 Legit Ways to Support Your Immune System, According to Doctors

3 min read

Loading up on high-fiber fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes also seems to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes in your body, and more specifically, your gastrointestinal tract (which is pretty important, since up to 80% of your immune cells hang out in your gut).6

2. Give your body the rest it needs.

“Sleep is key for healthy immune function,” Aima Ahonkhai, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health in Nashville, tells SELF. As you log your seven to nine hours each night, your body releases protective proteins called cytokines that help to regulate immune function, Dr. Ahonkhai explains. “This is actually why we sleep more when we are fighting an infection,” she says. “So without sufficient sleep, our immune function is weakened.” (Here are some tips on how to get better sleep if you struggle in that department.)

3. Move a little each day.

Regular exercise—generally defined as at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity movement each week—also increases the release of cytokines (the same ones that roll out while you sleep) and circulation of immune cells called lymphocytes (white blood cells that help fight infection) throughout your body, which allows them to better identify and fight potential threats, Dr. Ahonkhai says.7 “Exercise also improves sleep and decreases stress, which feeds back to support the immune system,” Dr. Ahonkhai says.

You can overdo it, though. Research has found that repeated, strenuous exercise—think, daily marathon training—can actually suppress your immune function.7 (Learn more about how to strike an immune-supporting sweet spot with your workouts here.)

4. Chill out when you can.

Yeah, being told to stop stressing is easier said than done. But if you can pull it off, it can make a difference in your well-being, John Sellick, DO, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo SUNY, tells SELF. “Think of it from the point of view of a generally healthy lifestyle,” he says. “If you’re working long hours, aren’t sleeping much, and are constantly stressed, you’re not looking at the things that you need to do to maintain your health.”

Short-lived stress can actually be protective, as it “produces an inflammatory response” in your body and increases the level of those all-important cytokines that help fight off infection or other threats, Dr. Ahonkhai says. But when the stress is chronic and all-consuming, that response can become harmful to your immune system over time, because it’s constantly activated.8 (If you feel tension in your shoulders right now, might we suggest these stress-relief activities and tips to reduce anxiety?)

5. Don’t put off your vaccine appointments.

Dr. Sellick says most adults should plan to get their annual flu shot (ideally before the end of October) and their updated COVID-19 vaccine (the timing will vary based on your last shot or infection). Some adults should also ask their doctor about the new RSV vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes. These vaccines help prime your immune system so it will be ready to deal with these viruses if you encounter them, which ultimately lowers your risk of getting seriously ill, Dr. Sellick says.

6. Book your annual check-up if you haven’t already.

If you have insurance or can swing the cost, seeing a primary care doctor on a yearly basis gives you a chance to talk about any physical or mental health issues you may be experiencing. It also allows your doctor to ask questions and perform basic exams to keep tabs on your well-being, Dr. Sellick says. “There are going to be specific things that need to be looked at: your heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels,” he says. “This is always a good opportunity to go over things that maybe aren’t pressing but are still going on with your health.” During this check-up, your doctor can “also recognize early signs or symptoms of a weakened immune system,” and potentially intervene if legit concerns come up, Dr. Ahonkhai says. (You can search for a low-cost health center in your state here.)


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