How to Boost Your Immune System


Laura Zdancewicz MSN, CRNP, FNP-BC, CHSE, Assistant Professor, NCC Nursing, Monroe Campus ,

Many people ask me, “How can I improve my health?” My top response always includes boosting the immune system. Trying to prevent disease and staying healthy is a continual, life-long challenge. The first line of defense against disease is a healthy immune system. Your immune system does a great job of protecting you from illnesses, infections, and even cancer, but stress and advancing age can weaken it. Research has shown that choosing to live a healthy lifestyle can help boost your immune system and even possibly increase your life expectancy. So what can you do to enhance the functioning of your immune system and maintain general good health?

Some healthy lifestyle choices are obvious. We all know not to smoke or use illicit drugs, and if you drink, do so in moderation, but what else can one do to boost their immune system? According to Harvard Medical School, there are some helpful habits that can strengthen our immune system and even fight off disease:

  • Drink plenty of H2O – Staying hydrated helps our body naturally get rid of toxins and bacteria that may cause illness. Keep in mind that increased physical activity as well as hot, humid weather increases our need for more water. The Mayo Clinic recommends 8-eight ounce glasses per day as a guideline. A good tip is to look in the toilet! You should drink enough fluid daily to keep your urine a pale yellow. 
  • Exercise regularly - One might think that you should exercise constantly to improve your immune system, but prolonged vigorous exercise may actually weaken it. Rather, consistent and moderate exercise can have great benefits. Exercise improves cardiovascular health, decreases blood pressure, reduces inflammation, and may prevent the onset of a variety of diseases. Most experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes per week (30 minutes per day 5 days per week). As a general guide, when exercising at a moderate intensity, you should be able to clearly speak in short sentences without becoming out of breath. One can also use the “Karvonen formula” to track one’s heart rate to ensure you’re exercising at a moderate intensity. Let’s use an example of a 55-year-old woman who wants to work out at 60% intensity. She has a resting heart rate of 80 beats per minute.

1. Subtract your age from 220 to get your maximum heart rate. (220-55=165)

2. Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate. (165-80=85)

3. Multiply that number by 50% - 60% to get your target heart rate increase. (85x60%=51)

4. Add your resting heart rate to that number to get your target heart rate. (51+80=131

  • Eat a healthy diet – Aim for a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Vibrant colorful foods usually equate to more nutrients. Some foods have even been shown to significantly boost the immune system. Garlic, onions, nuts, legumes, fish, and ginger are some tasty and healthy options. These foods are rich in antioxidants and help to reduce inflammation. Healthy fats rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been found to boost one’s immune functioning as well. Olive & coconut oil, fatty fish like sardines & salmon, avocados, eggs, chia seeds, and dark chocolate are just some examples. On the other hand, some foods are bad for the immune system and should be avoided. Soda, simple sugary snacks, and fried food taste great but can contribute to a weakened immune system. If you are unable to meet your nutrient needs, supplementation with a multivitamin with minerals may be an option. Although, most experts do not recommend taking large doses of any single vitamin. Probiotics have been shown to improve gut health which in turn improves overall health and immune function. Probiotics can be taken as a supplement or you can get them from fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha. 
  • Get adequate sleep – During sleep your body releases chemicals called cytokines that are used to fight infection or inflammation. Not sleeping enough or even sleeping too much can decrease the production of these immune-protecting chemicals. Studies have shown that long-term lack of sleep can contribute to obesity and even increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Most experts recommend getting seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
  • Minimize stress – We all experience stress at times and can continue functioning without serious consequence, but research has shown that prolonged, chronic stress can be a deterrent to proper immune functioning. Long term stress has been shown to contribute to inflammation and even suppress the immune system. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and exercising are great options to decrease stress. Some individuals even find journaling a therapeutic way to relieve stress. Therapy is another option to seek a trained professional’s assistance in learning some or all of the techniques listed above.

You have the power make some simple changes and lifestyle choices that can improve your immune functioning and overall health. These include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fluid, preferably water, getting adequate sleep, and minimizing stress. There is no guarantee that illness or disease will not occur, but consistent healthy lifestyle habits can reduce the likelihood of them interfering with the healthy life you are meant to enjoy.


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