The 28-day plan to support your immune system
-Oct 23, Jenny Paul , Health -
With winter here and global lockdowns coming into force, many of us are growing concerned about supporting our immune health and fighting off infections in the coming months. The good news is with a few small lifestyle and dietary changes you can support your immune system and give yourself the best chance possible of staying infection-free this winter.
“Sleep, a nutritious diet and daily moderate exercise are essential for strong immune health,” says Sara Palmer Hussey, PhD. “In order to maximise the effectiveness of the immune system, it would be beneficial to minimise lifestyle habits that weaken it, such as excessive alcohol, sleep deprivation, stress, smoking and a poor diet containing too much sugar.”
A fast and effective immune response is crucial to how efficiently the body can fight infections and destroy viruses, so it is important to understand which factors contribute to a weakened immune system and to mitigate them as part of your lifestyle.
Research from the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute TGHRI has discovered that a type of immune cell called T cells found in abdominal fat induces a pro-inflammatory response in the body, which adversely affects the body’s response to insulin. This suggests there is an important link between chronic inflammation, poor immune response, and insulin resistance.
One of the keys to lasting good immune health is minimising insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. The best way to do this is by taking a five pronged approach which encompasses nutrition, exercise, sleep, social interaction plus relaxation.
Which exercise is best for immune health?
After a long summer entertaining bored children, worrying about travel restrictions and social distancing, many of us have found fitting in time for the gym each day is nearly impossible. Now the kids are going back to school and the weather is cooling down, putting aside 40 minutes a day to exercise and look after your immune health will be well worth the effort.
Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and specifically your immunity. Moderate cardio is all you need to strengthen the body’s defence against infections. Some studies have shown that moderate intensity exercise may cut down the number of colds you get. Cardio also decreases insulin resistance within three months for those who start off with a sedentary lifestyle, even without weight loss.
Lumity’s Sara Palmer Hussey, PhD says: “Short and intense bouts of exercise are best for immune health, so HIIT is ideal. Long exercise sessions can exhaust and stress the body thus weakening the immune response. So, daily moderate exercise or intense bouts of 10-12 minutes work best to strengthen the immune system. “
If you can’t make it to the gym each day for the next month, try going for a 40-minute walk each morning or evening. Not only will it give your immune health a helping hand, you will sleep better, be less stressed and you’ll have more energy from the lovely regular boost of endorphins. You could lose weight too and improve your confidence.
Sleep your way to better immune health
Studies show that once you have less than seven hours of sleep a night, your insulin resistance starts to increase.
Sara Palmer Hussey, PhD says: “During sleep, levels of certain proteins, such as cytokines, and hormones, such as melatonin, that support immune function increase. Sleep has been found to increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of immune cells to deal with infection. A good night’s sleep is a powerful defence against disease.”
Stress is the major factor behind poor sleep, so you need to find ways of mitigating the stress in your life by taking a proactive approach to stress reduction through activities such as mindfulness and meditation as well as taking moderate exercise each day is the key.
Turn off social media plus TV and computer screens at least two hours before bed. Avoid coffee and tea after 2pm, as the stimulating effect of caffeine can continue for many hours.
What to eat to support immune health and what to avoid
Nutrients that are critical for the growth and function of immune cells are vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and protein (including the amino acid glutamine).
These can be difficult to get from diet alone so invest in a quality daily supplement which includes these such as Lumity, with the added bonus that it will help with skin, hair, nails, energy, sleep and reducing oxidative stress.
“Foods with high quantities of vitamin C, which supports our ability to fight off infections, include citrus fruit, peppers, berries, papaya, kiwi and spinach,” advises Dr Palmer Hussey. “Garlic is great for the immune system; it contains a compound called allicin that has been found to have many benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Other spices, such as turmeric and ginger, also have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts are a great snack for immune health as they tend to contain selenium, zinc, vitamin E and B vitamins. Shellfish, especially oysters, are packed with zinc too, a critical nutrient for immune health.”
The diet which is best for counteracting insulin resistance is one which has less unhealthy fat, sugar, meats, plus processed starches such as white bread, potatoes and pasta, and more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, and lean poultry. Avoid anything pre-cooked or pre prepared that comes in a packet, so no snacks such as chips or crisps or chocolate bars or cookies.
Try starting each day with oatmeal, topped with a banana and berries then have a decent lunch of fish such as salmon, plus a huge plate of green veg. If you miss carbs with your meal, then spiralised courgette makes a worthy substitution, or you could add cauliflower rice which is filling and nutritious. Have a very small dinner, such as vegetable soup, or a tuna salad. To help your body get ready for sleep each night try not to et anything after 8pm, but if you can finish dinner before then, say by 6pm, even better.
Relaxation for great immunity
Psychological stress is a significant contributing risk factor in up to 90 per cent of all chronic diseases but the good news is that you can vastly reduce stress using holistic methods. As a bonus you’ll look and sleep better too.
Meditation is one of the best techniques to beat stress. Try lying on your bed and closing your eyes and conducting a body sweep. This is where you focus on physically relaxing your toes, then your feet, then your calves, working your way up your body until you reach your brain. Repeat three times and you should feel a huge mental release.
As mentioned, exercise is a great way to counterbalance stress. Why not take up a new class, or you could even join a boxing gym and really pound away your frustrations. (Boxing is brilliant for abs too!).
Painting has been shown by numerous studies to increase feelings of relaxation and happiness, plus practising yoga can reduce stress and boost wellbeing in less than 30 days.
Spend time with other people
After a year spent avoiding other humans, what better way to combat stress than socialising? A good laugh and talking over your problems is without doubt one of the best ways to mitigate stress and the research shows having meaningful relationships in your life makes you happy, but it is also linked to good health and longevity.