Health

Support your immune system

Show your immune system some love with exercise, food and sleep
Photography: Stocksy

Our immune system is a wonderful thing, made up of cells, tissues and organs that all work together to help keep our bodies in tip-top condition. It’s the body’s defence against illness and infection, and works by destroying any unfamiliar cells such as viruses and bacteria – so maintaining your immune system health is super important.

How can I support my immune system?

Eating lots of the leafy, green stuff won’t prevent you from catching a virus. The most effective way to help prevent the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is with a vaccine and there isn’t one yet. But it’s not all bad news.

Filling your plate with greens, grains and healthy fats can help support the body’s immune defences and help keep you healthy. Maintaining a varied, balanced diet (for the most part) is the first step to great immune system health – the food we eat every day contains nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are essential for keeping us up and running.

Think about vitamin C

Protecting your cells is really important when it comes to immune system health, and vitamin C is great for helping to do just that. Foods such as oranges – or orange juice – red peppers, broccoli, potatoes and spinach are all good sources of vitamin C, which also helps to maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?

Helping to keep your bones, muscles and teeth healthy by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body, vitamin D is also great for supporting our immune systems. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, and between April and September is when we’ll get the most of it. Remember to wear sunscreen if you’re out and about in the garden or doing your daily exercise outdoors.

It’s difficult to get enough of your daily recommended amount of vitamin D from food, but you can find small amounts in oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and mushrooms.

Consider vitamin A

Found in foods such as cheese, eggs, yoghurt and oily fish, vitamin A (also known as retinol) helps keep your immune system healthy. It can help maintain the cells that line the inside and outside of your body and form an important first line of defence. You’ll find vitamin A in plenty of colourful green, red and yellow fruit and veg such as apricots, sweet potatoes, peppers and carrots.

Supplement support

Eating a balanced diet should provide you with the vitamins you need. But if you can’t get hold of food with essential nutrients during isolation, taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement may be a good idea if you feel you’re lacking vitamins from your diet.

If you’re finding it difficult to get your hands on enough fresh food or vegetables at the moment, tinned and frozen fruit and veg can also do the trick. Plus, a vitamin C supplement can help boost your daily intake if you feel you’re not getting your five-a-day. Vitamin C can’t be stored in the body, so it’s safe to take a supplement every day – but no more than 1,000 milligrams.

The power of a good night’s sleep

It’s not just food that’s great for the immune system. Being best friends with bedtime and getting enough shut-eye is one of the essential ways to help keep your immune system healthy. Not only does sleep reboot the body, but it reboots the mind, too. Short visits to the land of nod can increase stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, keeping you counting sheep at night and putting stress on your immune system at the same time.

W is for water

Hands up who forgets to fill up their water bottle more than once a day? Drinking plenty of the good stuff (to be clear, we’re still talking about water) keeps you hydrated and does wonders for your immune system, as it helps to remove toxins from the body. Try to keep to six to eight glasses of water each day. If you don’t like the taste of water, why not add a slice of lemon, lime or orange? (You’ll be pleased to know coffee and tea count, too.)

Do your daily exercise

Whether it’s a workout online to start the morning or a spot of gentle yoga in the garden in the afternoon, exercising regularly once a day can have a positive effect on your general health and wellbeing. It also helps maintain the way the immune systems works.

If you’re going outside for a walk or run, remember to go on your own or only with those in your household – and keep your distance from other people who are out and about.

Take care of yourself

It’s important to keep happiness levels up and stress levels down while you’re working from home and adapting to a change in environment. Long-term stress may affect the ability of the immune system to fight off infection. Getting lost in doing what you love is a great way to focus your mind on something positive and personal to you. Whether it’s baking, sewing or painting, having something you’re passionate about can make it a whole lot easier to forget about what’s going on around us.

If you’re looking for more mindfulness tips, we’ve got everything you need, from taking time for yourself to tricks to starting the day well.

Wash your hands

We’ve all seen the ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ signs, which try to help prevent germs from spreading. Now, more than ever, it’s really important that you wash your hands thoroughly, remembering not to touch your mouth, eyes and face with unwashed hands. When you do need to take an essential trip out of the house for food shopping, work or exercise, keep a bottle of hand sanitiser with you.

And there you have it: the lowdown on helping to keep your immune system healthy and happy.

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