Simply put, your immune system is your body’s defense against infection and illness. Your immune system recognizes the cells that make up your body, and will try to rid your body of the unfamiliar to keep you healthy. The immune system calls on its “defense cells”, aka T, B and white blood cells to fight off germs and infections. Whether it’s cold and flu season or a Spring pandemic, fortifying your immune system just what the doctor ordered.

We’ve identified six easy ways to boost your immune system:

1) Double Down on Vitamin D

Thankfully, residents of Colorado enjoy plenty of this “sunshine vitamin” However, if you are cooped up with your kids, in quarantine, or inside working too much, you may need to double down on this very important vitamin. 

Why? Vitamin D plays a critical role in promoting immune response. It has both anti-inflammatory and immunoregulatory properties and is crucial for the activation of immune system defenses. (Source) Vitamin D is so important for immune function that low levels of it have been associated with an increased susceptibility to infection, disease, and immune-related disorders. (Source)

How? Getting your vitamin D through foods is the method most doctors and dieticians recommend. Here’s a list of foods that are high in vitamin D. If you need more vitamin D, consider adding a supplement to your daily routine. 

How much? Based on current research, consuming 1,000–4,000 IU (25–100 mcg) of vitamin D daily should be ideal for most people. Source In terms of ingesting natural sources, think fish, cod liver oil, mushrooms and any food that is labeled “fortified with vitamin D.” 

2) Move Your Body 30 Minutes Each Day

Why? The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system but exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness. Each time your exercise, particularly full body cardio, mobilizes your immune cells, especially those cell types that are capable of recognizing and killing virus-infected cells. Exercise also releases various proteins that help maintain immunity, particularly cytokines such as IL-6, IL-7 and IL-15. The cytokine IL-6 has been shown to ‘direct’ immune cell trafficking toward areas of infection, while IL-7 can promote the production of new T-cells. (Source)

How? The options are limited only by your imagination. In preparation for Spring, you can weed your garden and not only beautify your yard but you’ll exercise your muscles. The key is to do something you enjoy so that you’ll continue to want to do it. If you like to change up your routine, explore workouts on YouTube or sign up for a Class Pass.  

3) Get Enough Good Sleep 

Why? During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, pronounced sai·tuh·kainz, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you’re under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.

How? Make sure your bedroom is cool, stay on a schedule, and don’t look at the clock or your phone while in bed. An environment that encourages sleep is TV free and dark. Are thoughts racing through your head, preventing peaceful sleep? Why not journal before bed to get them down on paper and out of your mind?  Have a warm cup of decaf tea before bed and avoid alcohol. Yes, it’s a depressant but it’s also a sleep disruptor. 

4) Drink More Water

Why? The water we drink is absorbed by the intestines, and circulated throughout the body. Water helps to carry oxygen to your body via blood, which results in properly functioning systems. It also works in removing toxins from the body, so drinking more of it could help prevent toxins from building up and having a negative impact on your immune system.

How? Tie it to other habits or to the same time as meals. For example, drink one 12 ounce glass before breakfast, lunch and dinner = 36 oz.  Drink another right after 30 minutes of exercise and get the largest water bottle you can carry. 

How much? Consume half your body weight in ounces of water daily. 

5)   Go for Gut Health

Why? The food you eat enters the gut along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The tubelike GI tract, lined with a thin, sticky mucous, is embedded with millions of bacteria that live, grow, and metabolize (digesting and absorbing) in what’s considered a complex ecosystem comprised of both beneficial and harmful bacteria.

These beneficial probiotic bacteria do several things that contribute to good health and immunity. Probiotics fight harmful foreign substances that enter the body by detoxifying them and easing their elimination.

How? Add fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, pickles, kimchi and kefir, to your daily diet. These help build up the good bacteria in your gut. 

6) Lean In to Leafy Greens

Why? Dark leafy greens have been shown to play a critical role in regulating the immune system by providing important chemical signals that encourage immune cells in the gut to function properly. (Source)

How? Arugula, spinach, and especially kale are great sources. You could eat a salad every day, but realistically you could eat the occasional salad and incorporate spinach and kale into smoothies, soups and stews. Remember to sauté and not boil spinach and kale to preserve their nutrients. 

These six simple steps have additional health benefits besides beefing up your body’s defenses, but when done together, increase the likelihood that you’ll get sick less often and even if you get sick, it won’t last as long as it would had you not taken these steps. 

Every member of our Healthful Life MD team works to make these steps become second nature. Our registered dieticians and certified nutritionists work with you to select the most natural sources for vitamins and nutrients. Our chef will teach you how to meal plan to include immunity boosting foods. To keep exercise exciting, our personal trainer can design a variety of workouts to create muscle confusion. Finally, our therapist can help you adopt new healthy habits and eliminate destructive ones to ensure your wellness journey is long lasting.  All team members communicate with Dr. Abby Bleistein, a triple board certified physician who monitors and coaches patients. To find out more about Healthful Life programs, call 720-336-5681.