What "Immune Boosting" Really Means + 18 Ways To Stay Healthy
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a growing public health concern. As of now, the CDC said the immediate health risk1 for most Americans is low, but more cases are expected to arise in the coming days. In the midst of uncertainty, many people are looking for quick fixes, sometimes dubbed "immunity boosters." But what does it actually mean to "boost" your immune system, and is it possible?
In an effort to better understand immunity, we consulted immunologist Heather Moday, M.D. "Our immune system is made up of so many moving parts," she told mbg. "'Boosting' really just means balancing it." And like all things balanced, there's no single, fast-acting solution.
To start, "you have to work on the lifestyle factors first." The main lifestyle factors we need to concentrate on, according to Moday, are sleep, stress management, nutrition, and maintaining a super-healthy microbiome. And to ensure these lifestyle shifts are sustainable, the practices should fulfill you rather than feel like a chore.
Beyond washing your hands and getting more sleep, which are incredibly important practices, here are 18 unexpected but effective activities that can help strengthen your immunity, not just supercharge it.
To enhance your nutrition:
1. Stay hydrated.
Drinking water "will help keep lungs moist and mucus flowing, clearing lungs of the gunk that can collect and create conditions for opportunistic infections to thrive," wrote functional medicine doctor and mbg Collective member Frank Lipman, M.D., on his website.
2. Drink tea.
Certain teas, like green tea and black tea, have antioxidant polyphenols, which have been known to support the immune system by fighting free radicals2.
3. Limit your sugar intake.
Eating a healthy diet, and limiting (or eliminating) inflammatory foods, like sugar, "not only helps your body recover faster—it also helps build up your immune military so it's more resilient and dynamic," Amy Shah, M.D., wrote in an mbg article.
4. Opt for a mocktail.
Moday told us avoidance of drugs and alcohol is one of the most important ways to strengthen our immunity, as it affects both sleep3 and hydration. Limit your alcohol intake by swapping a cocktail for a mocktail.
5. Buy a new cookbook, and get creative with your recipes.
Pull out a cookbook (here are some of our favorite cookbooks), or find a recipe online and commit to cooking at least one new dish each week. Not only will this break the monotony of healthy meal prep, but you'll introduce your body to new foods, which can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome4.
To promote quality sleep:
6. Read more books.
Reading a book before bed rather than looking at your phone, laptop, or an e-book will limit your exposure to blue light, which has been known to suppress melatonin and interfere with sleep.
7. Listen to music.
Studies have proved music across all genres can induce physical and mental states conducive to sleep5.
8. Make sure you sleep soundly.
If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, consider taking a supplement before crawling into bed. Magnesium glycinate (or magnesium bisglycinate), for example, acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, which promotes muscle relaxation.*
9. Take a warm bath.
According to research, warms baths can help maintain your body's natural temperature6, which supports your circadian rhythm.
10. Try aromatherapy.
Take a few whiffs of essential oils, or drop them into a diffuser before bedtime. Lavender oil, in particular, can help support quality slumber7 in healthy men and women.
To help manage stress:
11. Focus on your breathing.
According to breathwork teacher Gwen Dittmar, deep breathing helps to activate the vagus nerve, which turns on the parasympathetic nervous system and helps manage anxiousness or stress.
12. Practice meditation.
People who practice meditation are able to recover from physiological stress responses8 much more quickly than those who don't meditate.
13. Consider stress supplements.
Taking a hemp multi+ supplement can help manage anxious thoughts and daily stress, and the addition of vitamin D helps support healthy immune function9.*
14. Go on a walk in the sunshine.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to people with anxiety and depression10, so soaking up natural sunlight whenever possible can help to improve mood and overall health. Walking is an added cardiovascular bonus.
15. Call a friend or family member.
Having a social support system has been proven to help people manage feelings of anxiousness, so if you're staying inside to avoid potential exposure, calling friends and family is one way to maintain that quality social interaction.
To support your microbiome:
16. Stream a new workout class.
If you're trying to avoid contact with infectious germs, going to a workout class might be out of the question for you. However, exercise can increase short-chain fatty acids, which Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., MSCI, called the "key to gut health," even if it is in the comfort of your home.
17. Get all your pre- and probiotics.
Prebiotics help nourish your gut's healthy bacteria, and probiotics help feed those good bacteria and support gut health.* Getting enough of both is helpful for immunity since, according to Lipman, "a healthy gut makes the rest of you less vulnerable to bacterial and viral invaders."
18. Spice up your meals.
Certain spices, like clove, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cumin not only make your meals more interesting, but they also have antibacterial and antifungal properties11, which can help support immunity.
What's the bottom line?
"You can do and take things for each of these areas," Moday said, "but there is no magic bullet for immunity." Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by implementing some of these practices can help strengthen your immunity and prepare your body for exposure to unwanted pathogens.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.