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How to Support Your Immune System

With Covid-19 is still grabbing headlines, it’s easy to forget that regular old seasonal illness still exists — until you get sick. Luckily, by taking steps to boost your immune system, you’ll not only reduce your risk of catching a cold, but also up the odds that if you do get sick, your symptoms won’t be too bad. 

Here are eight things you can do today to strengthen your immunity. 

Exercise regularly

It’s not breaking news that exercise is good for you, but did you know that it can also bolster your immune system? Not only does exercise likely improve your immunity over your lifespan, but one single sweat session can also help your body more effectively fight disease. 

Both cardio and resistance training appear to give your immune system a leg up. So if you’re looking to have a better defense system, try to find a balanced workout routine that you’ll stick to. That might mean daily walks and a few gym sessions per week.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

About 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, so what you eat may impact your immune function. Try to eat a balanced, gut-healthy diet, which includes plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, as well as probiotic foods, like kimchi, kombucha, or yogurt.

Try to avoid eating too many sweets, as sugar spikes can actually suppress immune function. Processed foods (like most commercial snacks, crackers, chips, etc.) are also linked to a rise in inflammation, which can tax your immune system. Additionally, while some old wives’ tales prop up cold remedies with alcohol — alcohol actually hampers the immune system.  

Hydrate properly

Your bloodstream is the highway of the immune system, transporting nutrients, fluid and important messages around the body. Since blood plasma is around 90% water, proper hydration is essential to this process. Shoot for drinking about half your body weight in ounces of water per day. 

Get enough sleep

Just like your brain, your immune system can’t function well without proper sleep. Skimping on sleep has  been shown to reduce levels of infection-fighting antibodies. Ideally, you should aim for seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye per night. 

Manage stress

Stress can make the symptoms of seasonal illness worse for a few reasons. First, it decreases the number of disease-fighting cells in your body, making it more difficult to fend off infection. Being chronically stressed can also cause high levels of cortisol, which weakens your body’s natural anti-inflammatory response, leading to chronic inflammation and more illness.

There are lots of effective ways to keep your stress at a healthy level. This might mean meditating, getting regular exercise, seeing a therapist or even just avoiding situations that you know will stress you out. 

Understand your health risks

If you have an underlying condition, seasonal illness can hit you harder than it hits others. Those with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic health conditions are at a higher risk for complications from illness, and also tend to have more severe symptoms. It’s important to be aware of any health risks you might have, and take steps to manage them. Talk with your doctor about what you should do to keep any chronic conditions under control. 

Consider a seasonal flu vaccine

From 2010 to 2020, between 9 and 41 million people got the flu each year. The flu is pretty miserable, but you can substantially reduce your chances of contracting it by getting a flu shot. You can get a flu vaccine through your doctor or at most pharmacies. Doctors recommend getting your shot sometime in September or October (though if you’re past that window, it still helps!).

Getting sick is awful, but sometimes unavoidable. Thankfully, by strengthening your immune system, you can help reduce the severity of your symptoms and make seasonal illness more bearable.

Plus, all of the tips above are healthy practices that will make your body and mind feel good — and they’re way more pleasant (and effective) than throwing back a shot of cough medicine at 2 a.m.

Ready to book a doctor’s appointment? Visit Zocdoc.

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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.