Your immune system is your best defense against cold-weather coughs and sneezes. So what can you do to improve it? It's easier than you might think. A simple stroll through the park, a healthy snack, and even a little time spent with loved ones can go a long way in helping you stay healthy. Read on for more proven tips for boosting your immune system.
Staying active can reduce your odds of catching a cold by nearly half. In one study, exercise strengthened resistance by causing immune cells to circulate at a higher rate. Exercise is also a powerful stress reducer, and less stress equals less inflammation, which means you can kick colds easier. Even only 20 minutes of moderate exercise can have anti-inflammatory effects that help your immune system. Take a brisk walk or check Daily Burn ($20/month) for beginner-friendly workouts.
“People who have more healthy bacteria in their gut tend to be sick less often,” says Amber Tully, M.D., a family medicine physician at the Cleveland Clinic. Research has found that bacteria from probiotics help strengthen cells in the immune system. Good probiotic breakfast options: yogurt and kefir. At lunch or dinner, try fermented foods like pickles or sauerkraut.
Belt one out while you’re on your way to work to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken your immunity. Make a playlist with your favorite tunes so you have music ready whenever you need a pick-me-up.
Vitamin D fuels your body’s T cells, which fight bacteria and viruses. Research shows that nearly half of all people have a D deficiency by the end of winter. Eat foods high in D to help get the recommended 600 IU a day. Fatty fish is a strong option: 3 oz. salmon has 479 IU and 3 oz. canned tuna has 154 IU. Other good sources: milk (1 cup = 115–125 IU), eggs (1 large egg yolk = 41 IU), and D-fortified orange juice (1 cup = 137 IU).
Whether you stroll through a park or enjoy a cup of coffee in the backyard, spending time in nature can help protect you against a range of health issues, experts say, in part by switching the body from a stressed-out state to a rest-and-digest mode. When you’re stressed, your body diverts resources away from everything that’s immediately nonessential, including the immune system. “But when we’re in a relaxed state, the body puts resources toward building the immune system,” says University of Illinois environment and behavior scientist Ming Kuo, Ph.D
Vegetables and fruits like berries contain antioxidants that keep the immune system humming along by neutralizing free radicals. Research has also found that soluble fiber—found in fruits, veggies, oats, and nuts—helped reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.
Next time you're feeling down, call up a friend or family member. It’ll give you a burst of feel-good brain chemicals that counteract and lower levels of stress hormones that can weaken your immune system.
Consider using a humidifier or keeping a basin of water by your bedside. This prevents mucous membranes from drying out, making them more vulnerable to infection. As a bonus, a humidifier will help moisturize skin during dry winter months.
“The functioning of your immune system is intimately tied to the amount and quality of sleep,” says W. Chris Winter, M.D., author of The Sleep Solution. The less sleep you get, the more depressed your immune system becomes. Aim for at least seven hours. And note that getting busy under the covers also helps: People who were intimate once or twice a week in one study had a 30 percent increase in the antigen that protects against colds and flu.