Immunity has taken a front seat in the pandemic. Everyone wants their body to be at its best – especially when there are viruses going round. Here, Julie Green from Wellness Empowered looks at the ins and outs of trying to boost your immunity.
Strengthening Your Immune System
The past twelve months have signalled to us all the importance of keeping healthy in a bid to protect ourselves from COVID-19, but can we actually boost our immune system? As we know our immune system it is a complex system which it sometimes seems hard to understand how we can influence it.
So what is our immune system, and what does it do?
In simple terms, our immune system is our body’s shield against infection and anything else toxic. Without our immune system, we would be constantly ill from germs, bacteria, viruses and parasites.
The immune system is made up of hundreds of different cells, tissues, organs, and proteins all of which perform a different role in our body. This can include getting rid of bacteria, fighting of infections, identifying foreign bodies (such as tissues and dangerous cells) and eliminating them all from the body.
So can we boost our immune system?
Our immune system can be affected by things such as stress, loneliness and depression, and this is why we see people get sick during stressful times, Therefore it is important to have good friendships and social networks as they can be a great support in cushioning stressful situations.
With our country having been in lockdown more than once over the past year, the importance of maintaining friendships and family connections, if only through social networking, has never been greater.
There are numerous products out there in health shops that claim to boost our immune system, but we can equally do this through better lifestyle choices.
Every part of your body, including your immune system, performs better when shielded from environmental damage and boosted by healthy-living strategies, these can include:
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Regular exercise
- Eating sufficient fruit and vegetables
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Minimising stress
Diet and your immune system
The ancient Greek Physician Hippocrates preached ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ it is so true that in order to prevent disease and create harmony we need to eat a nutrient-dense diet. It has long been recognised by scientists that people who live in poverty and are malnourished become more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Sleep and the immune system
We all know how unsettled sleep, be it due to having young babies and children or working different shift patterns affects our bodies. Normal daily functions suffer massively if we are tired, further adding to your stress levels.
Stress and the immune system
Definition of stress as defined by the Health and Safety Executive is ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them’.
We have all faced exceptional stress during the COVID19 pandemic, leaving us exposed to higher levels of stress than normal. It can create a sense of hopelessness leaving us feeling overwhelmed and exposed. The body’s natural response to stress is to trigger the fight, flight or freeze response, where the heart and respiratory rate increases, releasing the hormones adrenaline and cortisol which in turn, release sugar into your blood to give you energy to prepare you for action. In normal circumstances, once the perceived threat has passed, adrenaline and cortisol levels decrease, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels, and other systems resume their regular functions.
Remaining in a high state of stress, means our fight-or-flight response remains on high alert, over-exposing the body to cortisol and other stress hormones. The immune system particularly is unable to react naturally and produces levels of inflammation which increase the risk of further health issues.
The immune system is then indirectly placed under further pressure as our response to stress leans towards unhealthy coping strategies such as smoking, drinking too much caffeine and alcohol, and craving sugary snacks and processed foods. Poor sleep patterns and opting out of exercise and healthy social activities are also common coping strategies.
Contemporary medicine is now beginning to understand the close relationship between the mind and body. Emotional stress has been linked to a variety of ailments, including stomach upset, hives, eczema, and even heart disease, and chronic intense stress as in PTSD has been linked to brain damage. Despite the unavoidable obstacles, scientists are gradually making inroads to understanding the relationship between stress and immune function.
Immune system and age
At present we have no antidote to ageing, it is one of life’s inevitabilities. However, whilst we may be living longer, are we living better? How you look after your body today will affect your body tomorrow. To allow us to prepare for our future tomorrows, it’s vital that we act and try to readdress any imbalances in our lives. It is important to invest in our health, both physically and mentally; build strong social networks and live your life, don’t just exist. Keep active and nourish your body in the best way you can!
Exercise and the immune system
Exercising regularly has always been seen as an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Benefits include improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, body weight control, improved sleep and concentration, and protection against disease. Our question right now is, can it help to boost your immune system naturally and keep it healthy?
Just as a healthy nutritional diet contributes to our overall health and a healthy immune system, so too does exercise. It may in fact have a greater impact as it improves circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move around the body without restraint, allowing them to perform their role efficiently.
For all those who exercise, whether it be recreational or at a higher level, it is important to remember that rest and recovery days are a component of your training programme, as they allow the body and the immune system time to recover.
One thing we have learned over the past year or so is that we have all become more aware of the need to be healthy and stay healthy, in both body and mind. We have all had the chance to reassess what is important and what is not. Resoundingly it appears that good health, good friends, family, and a supportive community are at the top of most people’s lists, which is great news for everyone, as each one boosts your immune system.
Finally, stay strong, stay healthy and happy!