How To Boost Your Immune System – 15 Tips From Experts – Women’s Health

Like most of us, Im doing my damnedest to stay healthy right now. Im social distancing and washing my hands almost obsessively. Im trying to eat as many vegetables as possible to ensure I'm getting health-supporting nutrients that I'm not exactly taking in via all the stress baking.

Its also not surprising that Ive been bombarded with news over the past few months about how to bolster my immune system. I cant scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing some influencer bragging about an immune-boosting smoothie or a supplement company promoting pills with elderberry and citrus.

Time-out, though. Immunity has a PR problem right now. The whole idea that you can power up your immunity in some quick-and-dirty way overnight (and, you know, avoid a cold or flu...or COVID-19) isn't actually how it works.

Think of immunity like this: If youre the star quarterback of your life, your immune system is like that super-jacked lineman whose number-one job is to protect you from all directions. And, separately (but still in that sports realm!), just like how strategic leadership can whip a team into shape, you can train your system to more efficiently pick off any opponentbug, virus, germthat comes your way. But that conditioning takes time and dedication.

So, taking a last-minute, reactionary approach to immunity is the opposite of how you should think about it, says Nicole Avena, PhD, visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University. Immunity is a marathon, not a sprint. Because of that, there isnt any fast and easy way to immediately amplify yours. Youve got to take an all-in, holistic approach if youre going keep your immune system in fighting form, says Avena.

Recalibrating your immunity for the long game comes down to the classic health habits you hear time and time again: sleep, stress reduction, and sweating it out. The key is doing all of these to at least some degree and not expecting one to be the ultimate cure-all. You wont make your immune system healthier in a week by pumping yourself with vitamins because someone close to you is sick, says E. John Wherry, PhD, director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. But you absolutely can help your immunity by making certain lifestyle changes.

Nail Your Sleep Routine

Sleepspecifically getting at least seven hours most nightsmight be the Most Important Thing. The best data we have about how to improve immunity is on getting the right amount of good sleep, says Wherry. People who got six hours of shut-eye a night or less for one week were about four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to a virus compared to those who got more than seven hours, according to a study published in the journal Sleep. (The risk of getting sick was even higher for those who snoozed less than five hours a night.)

Everything you do when youre awakeeating, digesting, working, walking, exercisingprompts your body to release inflammatory cells, says Rita Kachru, MD, section chief of the clinical immunology and allergy division and assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Sleep gives your body a break from all of that. Dont get hung up on one crappy night of Zs (or give yourself too much praise for one amazing one, for that matter); focusing on long-term, consistent good sleep habits is the way to go. Your building blocks, right here.

Mara de la Paz Fernndez, PhD, a sleep researcher and assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior at Barnard College of Columbia University

Mariana Figueiro, PhD, director of the Lighting Research Center and a professor of architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Mikka Knapp, a registered dietitian-nutritionist

Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a sleep researcher and co-author of Sleep for Success!

Megan Roche, MD, epidemiology researcher and Strava running coach

Its well established that stress prompts the release of cortisol, that fight-or-flight hormone that enables you to run for your life. When cortisol is high, your immune system isnt as active, says Daniel M. Davis, PhD, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester in England; your body sends all of its resources to the thing it thinks is most likely to kill you, and away from other stuff, like your protective network.

Dont stress? Ill just give up now, youre thinking. Stay calm and try this: Instead of attempting to eliminate negativity, refine the way you cope (with the genius advice ahead!)which will make the blues more manageable and mitigate that cortisol response, Davis says.

Joy Lere, a psychologist

Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and executive director of Innovation360

Patricia Celan, MD, a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada

Beatrice Tauber Prior, PsyD, a clinical psychologist

Working out creates inflammation in the body, but its the good kind, says Wherry. Its a little counterintuitive, because exercise actually disrupts your bodys homeostasis, he says. But when your sweat sesh is finished, your bod goes back to its status quokeeping your immunity on its toes in that brilliant way, he says. Research backs this up: Folks who exercise regularly develop more T cells (those destroyer white blood cells) than their sedentary peers, a recent study found. It also helps modulate the stress hormone cortisol, which, when raised, leads to inflammatory activity.

Some experts agree that overtraining (you know, that feeling when youve been pushing yourself too hard and youre feeling it) can hinder immunity. So if youre an everyday athlete, moderate exercise on a consistent basis is the end zone to aim for.

Jennifer Haythe, MD, a critical care cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center

Lisa Ballehr, DO, an osteopathic physician and Institute for Functional Medicine certified practitioner

Ian Braithwaite, MD, an emergency physician at The Royal London Hospital

Kym Niles, certified personal trainer

Kristen Gasnick, board-certified physical therapist

Jenn Randazzo, registered dietitian

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