How Do I Strengthen My Immune System?

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español

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Your immune system is your body’s defense system. When a harmful invader — like a cold or flu virus, or the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — gets into your body, your immune system mounts an attack. This attack, known as immune response, can be stronger and quicker when you already have a healthy immune system.

Here are some basic strategies for keeping your immune system strong and healthy:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Aim for 5 – 7 servings of vegetables and fruits daily to get vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support immune health.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases that could weaken your immune system further.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep contributes to a variety of health concerns, including a weakened immune system. Seven to nine hours is recommended each day for adults, and children need eight to 14 hours, depending on their age.
  • Control your blood pressure and your stress level. Find healthy and appropriate ways to cope with stress, such as meditation, listening to music or writing. Physical activity is also a great stress reliever.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation – no more than 1 – 2 drinks a day for men, no more than 1 a day for women.
  • Don’t smoke or vape.

Immune-Supporting Nutrients

The following nutrients play a role in the immune system and can be found in a variety of foods:

  • Beta Carotene is found in plant foods, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.
  • Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.
  • Vitamin D is found in healthy-fat fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D also are sources of this important nutrient.
  • Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood, but also is in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.
  • Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health. They can be found in cultured dairy products such as yogurt and in fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut.
  • Protein comes from both animal and plant-based sources, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

What About Herbals?  Many herbal remedies are marketed to help fight colds and other illnesses or to shorten their duration, but check with your health care provider before taking any medications or supplements, including multi-vitamins.

Although you may not be able to fully prevent an illness, focusing on nutrient-rich foods and healthy lifestyle behaviors can help you and your family stay a step ahead.