Part Two: Building Immunity Through Lifestyle Choices

Our immune system needs to be strong to fight off both infectious disease and other forms of illness. Our immune system thrives on good nutrition, exercise, and spiritual and community connection. Part One of this series explained the importance of nutrition. You can check out that post here. In part two, I will share the importance of our lifestyle choices to our immune system. There are four areas that can strengthen our immune system. They are exercise, adequate sleep, stress reduction, and sun exposure.

Exercise

Exercise can have either a positive or negative effect on our immune system. Research indicates that people who participate in regular moderate exercise report fewer colds than their sedentary peers. Moderate exercise is associated with a 29% reduction in the risk of acquiring an upper respiratory tract infection, plus exercise is great for your overall physical health.

The negative is when excessive amounts of prolonged, high intensity exercise is done. It has been found that after an endurance event, participates are 100-500% more likely to pick up a viral infection. Those are not very good odds!

In summary, regular moderate exercise is important for good immune function and good health in general. Walking, light weight training, yoga, biking, and swimming are great options for moderate exercise. Overdoing it without sufficient recovery will be detrimental for immune function.

Adequate Sleep

Adequate sleep can affect your immune system. Studies have shown that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after having been exposed to a virus. Lack of sleep can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick. It has been found that infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep. This is one area most Americans neglect but is very important. Some tips for better sleep are no electronics one hour before bed, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, and maintaining a consistent bedtime each night.

Stress Reduction

Stress reduction is easier said than done! We all KNOW we need to reduce stress in our lives yet it is hard to do. Your immune system is intrinsically linked to your stress levels. Stress can affect your immune system in two ways:

  1. By creating chronic inflammation
  2. By suppressing immune cells needed to fight infection

It appears that chronic stress can reduce our immune system’s ability to fight off antigens, the harmful invaders that can make us sick. This can make us more vulnerable to infection and disease.

Overcoming stress is important in getting your immune system back in balance. While none of us can completely eliminate stress from our lives, here are a few ways to minimize its impact on our mind and body:

  • Deep-breathing exercises (check out my post on proper breathing)
  • Exercise (there it is again!)
  • Train your mind to think on positive things

Sun Exposure

Sun Exposure can have a positive effect on your immune system. It promotes vitamin D synthesis (check out my post on the importance of vitamin D) which strengthens your immune system; it is warming, relaxing, and mood lifting. Exposure to the sun also means being outside where there is hopefully fresh, clean air, a nice view, and abundant plant life. These are all things we often thrive on. Twenty minutes in the sun each day is a great goal; anything longer could result in a sunburn. It is important not to over do sun exposure.

These four lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on our immune system along with eating a healthy diet so get your moderate exercise, adequate sleep, reduce that stress, and enjoy some sunshine. Stay healthy and strong!

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Sources

  • Bauman, E., Freidlander, J. (2015). Therapeutic nutrition. Penngrove, CA. Bauman College.
  • Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, October 31). How to boost your immune system.  Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system.
  • Medline Plus. Exercise and immunity. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm.
  • WebMD. Exercise and the common cold. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/exercise-when-you-have-cold#1.
  • Hansen, F. (2017, December 12). How does stress affect your immune system? Retrieved from https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/stress-immune-system/.
  • Mann, D. Can better sleep mean catching fewer colds? WebMD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/immune-system-lack-of-sleep.
  • Nieman, D. (2001, June). Does exercise alter immune function and respiratory functions? Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gove/?id=ED470693.
  • Olson, E., MD. Lack of sleep: can it make you sick? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757.
  • Yan, K., Kuroiwa, A., Tanaka, H., Shindo, M., Kiyonaga, A., and Nagayama, A. (2001, August 17). Effect of moderate exercise on immune senescence in men. European Journal of Applied Physiology. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s004210100521.

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