- They don't reach size overnight – and the same goes for solid immunity. Strengthening your body's defenses requires consistent efforts. So take a seat and let's study your new healthy health playbook.
Like most of us, I'm doing my damnedest to stay healthy now. I am socially distant and wash my hands almost obsessively. I try to eat as much vegetables as possible to ensure that I get health-promoting nutrients that I don't get through all of the stress baking.
It is also not surprising that I have been bombarded with messages about strengthening my immune system in the past few months. I can't scroll through my Instagram feed without an influencer bragging about an immune-boosting smoothie or a supplement company promoting elderberry and citrus pills.
Time out. Immunity has a PR problem right now. The whole idea that you can boost your immunity quickly and dirty overnight (and, as you know, avoid a cold or flu … or COVID-19) doesn't work that way.
Imagine immunity like this: If you're the star quarterback of your life, your immune system is like the lineman with the super-jacked, whose main job is to protect you from all directions. And separately (but still in this sports area!) You can train your system in the same way that strategic leadership can shape a team to more efficiently pick out any opponent – mistakes, viruses, germs – that comes in your way. But this conditioning takes time and commitment.
A last-minute reactionary approach to immunity is the opposite of how you should think about it, says Dr. Nicole Avena, visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University. Immunity is a marathon, not a sprint. Because of this, there is no quick and easy way to expand yours right away. "You have to take a comprehensive, holistic approach if you want to keep your immune system in combat," said Avena.
Recalibrating your immunity for the long game depends on the classic health habits you keep hearing: Sleep, stress relief, and sweat it out. The key is to do all of this at least to a certain extent and not expect one to be the ultimate panacea. "You won't make your immune system healthier in a week by pumping up vitamins because someone near you is sick," says Dr. E. John Wherry, director of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. "But you can absolutely help your immunity by making certain lifestyle changes."
In particular, you should focus on those coupling immunity-optimizing habits that all lead to these wellness pillars.
Nail your sleep routine
Sleep – especially at least seven hours most nights – could be the most important thing. "The best data we have to improve immunity is the right amount of good sleep," says Wherry. According to a study published in Sleep magazine, people who closed their eyes six hours a night or less for a week were about four times more likely to have a cold when exposed to a virus than people who had more than seven hours. (The risk of getting sick was even higher for those who dozed less than five hours a night.)
"Everything you do when you're awake – eating, digesting, working, walking, exercising – causes your body to release inflammatory cells," says Dr. Rita Kachru, head of the clinical immunology and allergy department and assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Sleep gives your body a break from all of this." Don't get hung up on a crappy Z night (or give yourself too much praise for an amazing night); Concentrating on long-term, consistently good sleeping habits is the right way. Your building blocks, right here.
-DR. María de la Paz Fernández, sleep researcher and assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior at Barnard College, Columbia University
“I try to go outside at about the same time every morning for about 30 minutes. The morning light offers the greatest advantage in terms of avoiding disturbances in the daily rhythm. If I can't – or on cloudy days – I put four lamps around my favorite chair and sit in the light for up to an hour. "
-DR. Mariana Figueiro, director of the lighting research center and professor of architecture at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“I make sure that my dinner contains foods rich in magnesium, such as spinach, beans or nuts. Magnesium helps the body and brain relax, which also helps rejuvenate your sleep. "
– Mikka Knapp, a registered nutritionist
"I make sure that the temperature in my bedroom is around 18 degrees, which may seem a little cool, but it means falling asleep faster and sleeping better all night."
—Dr. Rebecca Robbins, sleep researcher and co-author of Sleep for Success!
"I've learned to improve my sleep hygiene, but I've also learned that my sleep will be the way it is, and it is harder to strive for sleep perfection than rolling with the flow of sleep disorders."
-DR. Megan Roche, epidemiology researcher and Strava running trainer
Sharpen your stress response
It is well known that stress triggers the release of cortisol, the fighting or flight hormone that you can use to run for your life. When cortisol is high, your immune system is not as active, says Dr. Daniel M. Davis, Professor of Immunology at the University of Manchester in England. Your body sends all of its resources to what it thinks it is most likely to kill, and away from other things like your protection network.
No stress? I'm just going to give up now, you think. Keep calm and try the following: Instead of trying to remove negativity, refine the way you deal with it (with the brilliant advice ahead!) – what the blues makes it more manageable and mitigates this cortisol response, says Davis.
"I firmly believe in the power of gratitude. It's not woo-woo or weird – it works and we have science to back it up. I start and end my days by identifying three specific things that I am thankful for. "
– Jo Lere, a psychologist
"When I'm really stressed out, I focus on today's goals: what I have to do today and a few things I want to do." Only today. I shared this with a doctor I work with and he laughed and said, "Win the day." I love how he rephrased my work, and that's my new mantra. "
– Kevin Gilliland, clinical psychologist and managing director of Innovation360
"Confess all the secrets you keep! I know it sounds silly, but research has shown that keeping secrets can cause you to release more stress hormone, cortisol, which puts you in a stressful state that weakens your immune system. Call your best friend or therapist and take the weight off your shoulders. "
-DR. Patricia Celan, Psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Canada
“One of the most useful things I do to keep stress at bay is to stay as much as possible in the present moment. When I'm worried about the future and go into a dark rabbit hole with all the terrible things that can go wrong – like wHats when someone i love gets sick? – I name what is true right now: At this moment my family and friends are healthy. It's an easy way to take control of my thoughts instead of letting my thoughts put me in a stress tailspin. "
– Beatrice Tauber Prior, a clinical psychologist
Training causes inflammation in the body, but it's a good way, says Wherry. "It's a bit counterintuitive because movement actually disrupts your body's homeostasis," he says. But when your sweat is over, your body returns to its status quo – and keeps your immunity busy in this brilliant way, he says. Research confirms this: people who exercise regularly develop more T cells (these destructive white blood cells) than their sedentary counterparts, according to a recent study. It also helps modulate the stress hormone cortisol, which, when increased, leads to inflammatory activities.
Some experts agree that overtraining (you know, this feeling when you have overexerted and feel it) can hinder immunity. So if you are an everyday athlete, moderate training on a consistent basis is the end zone that you need to target.
"I am a runner and when I feel like I no longer train regularly, I register for a race. It gives me a goal that I have to strive for so that I can stay on the right track with my training."
-DR. Jennifer Haythe, cardiologist for intensive care medicine at Columbia University Medical Center
“I should get 20 to 30 minutes of exercise every day. Consistent, moderate training allows your body to recover faster and build immunity than if you exercise too much or not at all. "
-DR. Lisa Ballehr, osteopathic doctor and certified practitioner at the Institute for Functional Medicine
"I use a fitness band to track my sleep and heart rate, and based on that, I change my activity accordingly. For example, if I am very well rested one night, I will try harder the next time I work out. If I haven't slept well, I do a low impact workout and focus more on mindfulness the next day. Using a fitness tracker blames me when it comes to sticking to healthy lifestyle habits that I know help my immune system. "
-DR. Ian Braithwaite, emergency doctor at the Royal London Hospital
"I try my best to move around on days when I don't feel like it. But I also don't try to push my body to its limits when I'm not ready because I know that this just weakens my immune system. "
—Kym Niles, certified personal trainer
“I have to take a moderate walk for 30 to 60 minutes every day. This is the most basic and beneficial exercise to boost the immune system that anyone can do. "
—Kristen Gasnick, certified physiotherapist
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
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