A strong immune system is vital to overall health and well-being, but you may only focus on boosting your immune system during certain times of the year when you're most prone to illness, like the colder winter months. However, it's important to support a strong immune system all year long.
There are many things you can do with both your diet and lifestyle to help boost your immune system to make sure it works optimally at all times.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, nutritional deficiencies weaken the immune system, so focusing on your diet is one of the best places to begin to help build strong immunity.
Specific foods and nutrients to focus on include:
Fiber and probiotics. These nutrients support a healthy digestive tract, where nearly 80% of immune cells are located. Studies show that consuming high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, oats and nuts can help strengthen the immune system. Probiotics, such as those found in fermented vegetables, yogurt and kombucha are also found to be beneficial for disease prevention and treatment.
Antioxidants. These help boost the immune system by fighting off free radicals that can cause disease. Vitamins C, E, A and the mineral selenium all serve as antioxidants and can be found in foods like colorful produce, dark chocolate, green tea and nuts. Vitamin C is also an especially effective supplement for immune support.
Protein. The amino acids that make up protein are used as fuel for the immune system. Not eating enough protein weakens immunity. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, soy, beans, nuts and seeds all contain protein.
Omega-3 fatty acids. These have anti-inflammatory properties that help strengthen the body's response to pathogens. Fatty fish, walnuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds all provide omega-3 fats.
Vitamin D and zinc. These essential nutrients benefit the immune system by protecting and fighting against disease. Zinc is found in seafood, poultry, beans, whole grains and nuts. Vitamin D is best obtained in supplement form since it's found in very few foods and most people don't get enough through sunlight.
In addition to eating a balanced diet containing a variety of the foods listed above, lifestyle factors can also play a large role in boosting your immune system. These include:
Sleep. Research shows that sleeping less than seven hours per night for adults impairs immune function. The Sleep Foundation recommends setting a specific bedtime and practicing good sleep hygiene like turning off electronics, dimming the lights and taking time to unwind before bed to improve sleep quality and duration.
Stress management. All forms of stress can weaken immune system responses. Activities such as walking, reading, journaling and seeking support from loved ones can all help manage stress levels.
Exercise. Getting intentional daily movement helps improve immune function and control stress levels, amongst many other health benefits. It's best to stick to gentle activities you enjoy such as hiking, yoga and moderate weight training, rather than prolonged or intense exercise.
Additionally, a nutritional protocol, which helps ensure you get all of the essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally, can be a great place to start to boost your immune system. Health coaching can also help tailor recommendations to your unique needs.
Whether and how often you get sick isn't always in your control, but consistently focusing on your diet and lifestyle is something you can do to support a robust immune system all year long.