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The purpose of this article is to highlight the many low-cost ways to support your immune system. Also to show there are ways your daily habits and ways of being may be harming its function. I hope you come away from this article with a new appreciation for your immune system. And, a couple of ideas on how you can move forward to support its function even better tomorrow than you are doing today.
Your Immune System is There and Ready to Respond
These days, more than ever, it is worthwhile to reflect on, appreciate and provide support to your immune system. Your immune system is a marvel of nature. When your body needs protection, you do not even need to think about what to do consciously.
How does it accomplish this amazing feat? First, it provides a physical barrier, like your skin, to keep our microbes. Then, if a foreign invader happens to get inside you, your immune system can detect possible threats and can send “white blood cells and other chemicals and proteins to attack these foreign substances.” Finally, if that doesn’t work, the immune system can “rev up even more” to work to protect you. An example of this would be raising your body’s temperature (i.e., giving you a fever) to make your body less welcoming to foreign substances. [source]
Reconnect With the Strength and Power of What is Already Within Us
Did you know, for example, that your immune system “keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated, in types of white blood cells (B- and T-lymphocytes) known as memory cells? Therefore your immune system can recognize and destroy the microbe quickly if it enters the body again, before it can multiply and make you feel sick.” [source]
How many records do the memory cells of your body store? According to one medically reviewed article, that number is in the MILLIONS!!! [source] If you’re anything like me, you might be struggling to remember your password to access your online banking account. Good thing we don’t have to run our immune systems consciously! Haha. But seriously, I hope this information allows you to connect with and appreciate the miracle of life that is right inside you.
How Can You Support Your Immune System?
Well, precisely because it is not just one organ, but many (e.g., skin, spleen, white blood cells, bone marrow, thymus gland), there is no one “fix” for something complex. Therefore, the ways to support your immune system and ways to nurture and support your general health. [source]
These tips combine my well-researched health practices that I have been using for decades with an excellent article on the Mayo Clinic website entitled “Building Immunity: Self-Care in Times of Difficulty,” written by Leslie Wallenfeldt. [source] This brief article is based on the outstanding work of Dr. Amit Sood, a physician and the Executive Director of The Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being.
You Are What You Eat (and Supplement!)
If your car runs on gas, you wouldn’t put water in it and expect it to run, would you? And yet, so often, we eat foods with empty calories and no real value to our immune system. If you want overall health and a robust immune system, you need to eat essential fruits, vegetables, and meats with as few preservatives and chemicals as possible. (Here’s some advice for eating healthfully on a budget.) Many North Americans are deficient in the micronutrients crucial to our body function.
Do some further research, start with Vitamin D and take it from there. Your body will thank you!
The Importance of Sleep
In this performance-driven, time-packed society, it is easy to think that you can cut your sleep to get a bit more done. It might be ok as a short-term fix. However, this strategy is proven to negatively affect your immune system and increase damaging inflammation in your body in the long term. It is ideal to aim for seven hours a night (I need more than this to feel at my best). If you have young children, do what you can. When the kids are napping, can you take a rest, too?
The Importance of Moving and Nature
You don’t have to do a hardcore fitness workout to gain the benefit from moving your body. Going for a 5-minute walk each day to appreciate the beauty of nature is an excellent way to support your immune system. A growing body of research on spending time in nature, based on the Japanese tradition called “Shinrin-yoku” (translation: Forest Bathing), shows spending mindful time in nature can improve happiness. Research even shows that some plants give off essential oils that can “boost our mood and immune system function.”
Why not get out there and do some forest bathing to help support your immune system?
Stress Management and Resiliency
Dr. Sood has created his own framework of resilience factors that contribute to our well-being. They are all like petals on a flower surrounding the center of Resilience.
The petals are:
- Take Care of Yourself
- Active Problem Solving
- Meaning and Purpose
- Social Support
- Maintain a Positive Outlook
Considering this list, which of these do you think you are doing well at? Which of these could you improve?
Connect With Others
The past 18 months have made it very difficult to maintain our personal connections. I went through many months feeling very lonely and isolated, especially being widowed and living alone. There is evidence that “the less lonely and more connected you feel, the better your immunity and less your propensity to inflammation.” [source]
To support this, I now prioritize connecting with people I love, even briefly, each day off I have. It might be my weekly ZOOM with my mother and sister. Or, it might be a quick phone call to a friend to ask for advice. It all helps. I feel much better now that I am making this a much higher priority in my life.
Activities with a Positive Effect – Music, Meditation, Laughter, Spirituality
Dr. Sood also emphasizes the importance of building these kinds of positive activities into our lives. For example, can you take 10 minutes a day for a meditation or breathing technique? What about watching half an hour of a funny movie that you like when you are feeling low? Does your faith emphasize helping others? Perhaps you could put together some donations for a local cause you want to support? For example, do you have some extra produce in your garden that you don’t have time to can? Your local food bank would be grateful to receive this.
Music is also a recognized healer and immune system booster. I find I get enormous benefits from music. I recently invested in an excellent blue tooth speaker. At least once a day, I stop everything, lay back in my super comfy zero gravity chair, and stream a radio show of much loved choral music. Much of the choral music is faith-based, which I find inspirational. Often, it is a cappella and features many voices blending, which I find beautiful and soothing. My new Bluetooth speaker is of such a quality that I can close my eyes and almost feel like I am in the hall with these singers.
Maybe there is something healing even in the vibration of the music? I don’t know. On difficult days, this is my anchor. What do you for yourself that you find healing and calming? Are you making it a priority?
Activities that Cause Inflammation
Some activities that we feel help us cope with stress can be harming our body’s natural immunity. Examples of this would be smoking or excessive drinking of alcohol. You may find that you can reduce these habits if you substitute some of the positive activities discussed above. I am not saying this is easy. I am a former smoker myself! However, even reducing by one cigarette or one drink per day is a step in the right direction. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing!
It is probably no surprise that living under chronic stress and fear has a substantial negative impact on your health. “Impact of Fear and Anxiety” by the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota tells us:
“Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death.”[source]
I have decided to set an intention each day regarding my mindset. Despite all of the challenges I face these days, I want to maintain a calm mind. As Dr. Sood’s model highlighted above, Maintain a Positive Outlook is one of the petals of our resiliency flower. I have to admit this does not come naturally to me, but I feel better now that I intend to do this every day.
Let’s Boost Each Other as We Boost our Immunity
I hope this article contains some hope that we can do much to support our resiliency and immune function. What resonated with you in this article? Have you read something here today that you plan to share with those that you love? What helps you get through your difficult times and maintain your resiliency? Please share it with our readers so we can all boost each other!