Each and every day our immune system quietly does its job of protecting and defending our bodies from harm.  We may not see, smell, hear, or feel invaders such as microbes and bacteria, but there’s not a day that goes by these microscopic antigens don’t try to take us down. 

That’s why we need to nurture and respectfully treat our immune system with tender loving care. 

Understanding the immune system

Very few of us would be able to describe exactly what is our immune system.  Basically, think of it like your body’s own personal department of defense.  It’s ready and armed to root out germs and other invaders wanting to do you harm but that have no business in your body. For example, if you inhale a cold virus through your nose, your immune system targets that virus and either stops it in its tracks or primes you to recover.  It can take time to get over an infection and sometimes you need medicine to help, but the process is the cornerstone of prevention and recovery.

Other than your nervous system, your immune system is the most complex system in your body. Composed of a complex network of cells and organs, all designed with the intent to protect the body from infection.  This complex network includes tissues, cells, and organs including your tonsils, digestive system, bone marrow, skin, lymph nodes, spleen and thin skin on the inside of your nose, throat, and genitals.  All of these together help create or store cells that work around the clock to keep your entire body healthy.

What about ‘boosting’ the immune system?

Likely you’ve heard or read of ways to ‘boost’ your immunity.  Sounds captivating but in reality your ability to do so is limited. For many people, their immune system operates best on its own requiring little help.  Researchers are also still learning of the intricacies and interconnectedness our immune response has.

But, that doesn’t mean you should ignore or forego good lifestyle habits. They do matter to your overall immune functioning. There are many factors affecting your health and ability to fight off microbes such as your diet, exercise, age, and psychological stress. Think of them as go-to healthy-living strategies giving your immune system a helping hand.

Of course, even the healthiest of people get sick every now and then.  But if you practice certain health habits routinely, you can help strengthen your immune system’s defense against bacteria, toxic chemicals, and viruses that cause conditions such as the common cold and flu. 

Best ideas for a well-functioning immune system

Starting today, rely on the following natural methods giving your immune system a much needed power surge of strength keeping you as healthy as possible:

1.  Feed your body healthy food

Choosing healthy foods the majority of the time goes without saying.  When you eat a diet rich in antioxidants essential for supporting your immune system, your body thanks you immensely.  Begin by adopting a more plant-based diet.  You do not have to give up eating animal sources of food but the vast majority of people in the United States are nowhere near eating enough fruits and vegetables. 

Antioxidants power lies in the fact they can annihilate free radicals, chemicals known to damage DNA suppressing immune system functioning. 

Each day, include a minimum of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables – berries, apples, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, and brightly colored veggies such as carrots, peppers, and purple cabbage for example.  Healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseed, nuts, and olive oil may also help increase your body’s production of compounds involved in regulating immunity. 

For an additional immune boost, add minced fresh garlic to meals, shown to possess virus-fighting and bacteria-killing properties.  Be sure to also include ginger and turmeric added to dishes.  These spices contain natural anti-inflammatory compounds giving your immune system that extra nudge of power. 

Make water your main beverage of choice by each day consuming at least 8-10 cups for women and 11-13 cups for men.  Carve a wide path away from sugary beverages, like soda and energy drinks.  They only contribute too many extra calories in the form of sugar which may possibly increase inflammation.

2.  Exercise everyday

A regular workout routine is another vital part of keeping your immune system running smoothly.  When we exercise, it mobilizes your T cells, a type of white blood cell know to guard the body against infection. 

It is recommended to be physically active of doing moderate to vigorous exercise for 150 minutes a week or about 30 minutes, 5 days a week.  Engaging in a variety of moves from running, brisk walking, swimming, and bicycling are all good for protecting and strengthening your immune functioning.

3.   Slash stress

One of the biggest contributors to a weakened immune system is chronic stress. While short-term stress may actually rev up your immune defense, prolonged stress may wear down the immune system increasing your vulnerability to illness.

There will always be some degree of stress in our lives so to keep it in check, do relaxing practices such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing to incorporate into your daily routine. 

4.  Get a good night’s sleep

An important key to staying healthy is getting a good night’s sleep and research agrees showing a direct link between sleep and the immune system.  If sleep is an elusive stranger to you, the consequence could be weakened immune functioning leaving you not adequately protected when exposed to the next microbe. 

One reason why immune system function is closely tied to sleep is that certain disease-fighting substances are released or created when we sleep.  Your body needs these substances in order to fight off disease and infection.  Sleep deprivation reduces the availability of these substances leaving us more susceptible to viruses and bacteria you encounter. 

Adults generally need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night and children and teens need more ranging from 9 to 11 hours.  Consistency is key to good sleep hygiene in bolstering your immune system.

5.  Stop smoking

One of the worst things you can do is to smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products.  Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds of which at least 43 are known carcinogens.

Cigarette smoke contains high levels of tar and other chemicals, which can make your immune system less effective at fighting off infection increasing your risk of illness.  Continued weakening of the immune system can make you more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis and your body’s ability to fight off cancer.       

Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy.  Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.