By Sophia Power, BA Media BHScNutMed
Many of us reach for the bottle of vitamin C at the first sign of a cold or flu, but what about building healthy habits that support immunity throughout the year?
We’ve heard it often said that small daily habits can yield big results. Unfortunately, it’s not applied to immune health and fitness very often. Can small daily habits actually make a big difference to how your immune system operates? Here are some simple swaps and changes that build a stronger, more resilient immune system year-round.
Mind your thoughts
It sounds strange, but there’s a whole scientific field dedicated to the study of the link between psychology, the nervous system and the immune system known as psychoneuroimmunology. Continuous negative thought patterns and high stress impact the ability of immune cells to protect the body from everyday assaults and fight back against foreign invaders.
If negative thoughts or stress are getting in the way of your health and happiness, find a strategy that works for you - daily meditation, yoga, and journaling are just some of the proven strategies for managing stress and mindset.
Eat the rainbow
A simple strategy for making your food your medicine is to eat a range of richly coloured plant foods. Each colour is brimming with immune-supporting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that also support general health and wellbeing.
The focus on getting plenty of variety inevitably results in getting your intake of fruit and vegetables up. High fibre fruit and vegetables also support a healthier gut and detoxification. This helps to take the pressure off the immune system so it can do its job more efficiently.
Whether you love a structured gym class, an evening yoga session or a daily walk with your dog, make regular movement the ultimate goal.
Gentle to moderate daily movement of around 20 minutes helps to move bacteria out of the airways, support the lymphatic system in removing toxins and supports immune cells such as antibodies and white blood cells.1
Give your gut some love
The choices we make every day also impact on our guts. Why should we consider the gut when it comes to building a stronger immune system? The research on gut health has shown that there is an undeniable link between the gut and immune health. In fact, most of the immune system is made up of the gut microbiome - trillions of bacteria, fungi and yeast that live mostly in the small and large intestines.
A daily probiotic is one of the easiest ways to ensure that the good gut bacteria levels are optimal. Supporting good gut bacteria can also be done by eating plenty of fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut.
The good bacteria also need a good food source - this is where pre-biotic fibre comes in. Prebiotic fibres include foods you’re likely to keep around - oats, apples, garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus, flaxseeds, cacao powder and - kind of a strange one - green bananas.
Helpful hint: go with fermented foods that are stored in the fridge to ensure they’re brimming with good bacteria.
If you’re feeling run down or you’re surrounded by people who’ve come down with a bug, it might be time to consider bringing in the big guns.
Nutrients such as betacarotene, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, immune herbs such as astragalus, echinacea, andrographis, elderberry, and even medicinal mushrooms, including reishi and shiitake all aid in supporting healthy immune system function.
Start taking charge of your immune health by choosing one or two new immune-supporting habits to build into your daily routine.
- Batatinha, H.A.P., Biondo, L.A., Lira, F.S., Castell, L.M. & Rosa-Neto, J.C. (2019). Nutrients, immune system, and exercise: Where will it take us? Nutrition, 61:151-156.