With Omicron on our shores, it is vital we do what we can to boost our immune system, to significantly lower our risk of getting very ill.
Teachers, students, school employees – everyone can benefit by understanding what small changes can be made to support and enhance the immune system.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a complex system of cells and proteins that defend the body against any invading bacteria or viruses. The healthier your immune system, the quicker and more effective it will be in killing off the bugs.
In simple terms, a bug (virus or bacteria) enters the system. In an ideal world, our immune system will recognise the bug and immediately call in the calvery to kill off the bugs. If our immune system is compromised, it may not remember the bug and dilly dally or worse still not engage enough reinforcements allowing the bug to dominate.
We need our immune system to recognise the bugs, bring in enough reinforcements to dominate and have the stamina to keep going until the threat has gone.
Different components of our lifestyle will impact different parts of this process.
Here are some tips to boost your immune system:
1. Eat lots of fruit and veges
We know this is important for general health but it’s particularly important now. The more variety the better. Variety increases your good gut bacteria which communicates with your immune system and is key in responding to the threat.
So what fruit and veg are best for the immune system?
- Foods high in zinc – Oysters, mushrooms, cashews, unsweetened yogurt, pumpkin seeds, spinach, chick peas, cocoa
- Those rich in vitamin C and E – Oranges, Kiwi Fruit, Capsicum, tomatoes, broccoli, strawberries, brussel sprouts, leafy green vegetables, pumpkin
- Garlic is brilliant at fighting virus and bacteria
- Eat the rainbow – as many different and bright colours as possible as they are high in Beta Cartotene which is a powerful antioxidant. Think yellow, orange and green)
Did you know? Capsicum has more vitamin C than an orange.
2. Eat whole food, not processed
Processed food tends to be high is salt, sugars and saturated fat which causes inflammation in the body and in turn compromises the immune system. Anything you get in a packet is processed.
3. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep lowers the amount of infection-fighting antibodies in your system.
Studies show that you are less likely to get sick AND will recover more quickly if you sleep well. We need 7-9 hours of quality sleep to function well.
Here are some tips to help you to sleep:
- Have a warm show before bed – it lowers your body temperature and prepares your body for sleep
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day – even on weekends!
- Drink milk 30 mins before bed – milk can be high in melatinin – the sleep hormone
- Relax before bed – no thrillers raising your adrenaline
- Exercise – 30 mins moderate to vigorous exercise every day
- Dim your lights at night
- No screens 1-2 hours before bed
4. Maintain good vitamin D levels
Vitamin D protects your immune system’s memory. It brings in the cavalry the minute it sniffs out a threat it has seen before. This is why we have vaccinations – it gives the immune system something to recognise to kick in more quickly and effectively.
How do you get vitamin D?
- Go out in the sun at lunchtime – aim for 10 – 30 minutes of midday sun several times a week
- Eat eggs and fatty fish like Salmon
5. Reduce stress
Stress weakens and supresses the immune system making you more vulnerable to disease.
Tips to reduce stress:
- Follow the sleep tips above plus
- Practise diaphragmatic breathing
- Practise mindfulness and/or meditation
- Take time to relax
Did you know? Laughing curbs stress hormones and boosts white blood cells that fight infection.
6. Connect with others
Studies show that people who are connected to others and have good friendships have stronger immunity than those who don’t.
7. Don’t smoke
The harmful chemicals in cigarettes significantly weaken the immune system. It causes slower and less complete recovery from infection and disrupts the gut biome which also weakens your immune system.
8. Reduce sugar
Science shows us eating or drinking sugar slows the immune system cells that attack bugs for a few hours after consuming. Scientists say sugar may put your white blood cells into a temporary coma.
Tip: Use natural sweeteners like dates and bananas instead of sugar.
9. Do things that make you feel great
When we feel great, we are less likely to eat and drink rubbishy foods and drink and our stress levels are lower.
What will you change to boost your immune system this year?
AUTHOR: Jo Fife, wellbeing speaker, facilitator, writer, coach and Director of Workplace Wellbeing Ltd. Jo works with workplaces to develop wellbeing plans and trains their people to run effective wellbeing programmes.