2020 has been a year of reflection, particularly for our health. It has highlighted the importance of a healthy, balanced lifestyle to help support our immune system and fight off infection. But moving into 2021 what can we do to make sure our immunity is in tip-top condition?
What is the immune system?
The immune system is made up of different cells and proteins which all work together to defend the body against invading pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites etc) and infections. If your immune system is working as it should be then you won’t even notice it, but if it becomes weak then it will be unable to fight infections and you can become ill. If your body encounters a germ it has never seen before, you’re also more likely to get ill.
The immune system consists of white blood cells:
- Monocytes – help break down bacteria
- Lymphocytes – make antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses
- Neutrophils – kill and digest bacteria and fungi
- Basophils – release histamine to let the body know an immune response has been triggered
- Eosinophils – help with the allergic response and are responsible for attacking and killing parasites
How to boost your immune system
The idea that you can boost your immune system is exciting but not strictly true. Currently there are no scientifically proven ways to boost your immune system, but researchers are focussed on studying diet, exercise, and psychological stress to analyse their effects on immunity.
That said adopting a healthy lifestyle and a good standard of hygiene are a good way to help keep your immune system functioning well.
Healthy strategies to support your immune system
Following good health guidelines is the best line of defence and can help to keep your immune system healthy and strong. Some things you can do to help are:
- Incorporate lots of fruit and veg into your diet (aim for at least 5-a-day)
- Stay hydrated
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Give up smoking
- Gest good, restful sleep
- Minimise stress
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Wash your hands frequently especially when preparing food, after going to the toilet, after sneezing or blowing your nose
Diet and the immune system
Diet plays an important role in your immune system. Scientists have found that people who live in poverty or are malnourished are at an increased risk of catching an infection or being ill. The exact cause is yet to be identified as there are limited scientific studies on the effect of nutrition on the immune system.
There is, however, some research that shows micronutrient deficiencies can affect immune response. For example,
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
The best way to avoid any nutrient deficiency is to eat a balanced diet. It isn’t good to cut out whole food groups as this can leave you deficient in some nutrients. However, if you think you are not getting enough of a particular vitamin or mineral then it may be worth taking a multivitamin. However, you should seek professional, medical advice first.
Exercise and immune system
Exercise is an important factor in a healthy lifestyle. It improves your cardiovascular health, manages your weight, and improves blood pressure and because of its benefits for all round good health, may also contribute to a healthy immune system.
Exercise helps to pump blood around the body which means greater delivery of oxygen and efficient transport of cells including those associated with the immune system. So, aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise every week, activities like walking, jogging, dancing, tennis, and swimming are all good examples.
The immune system is a complex mix of cells, chemicals, and proteins which all work hard to keep your body healthy. It is your first line of defence against any potentially nasty invaders and so it is important to help give it a boost by adopting a healthy lifestyle. That includes eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, hydration and getting good sleep.