As we’ve witnessed with COVID-19, viruses can pop up at any time. Although this particular virus unexpectedly took the world by storm, others—like influenza and bronchitis—come around every year.
Your body’s immune system is designed to protect you from viruses like these. Although our immune systems are somewhat determined by our genetics and preexisting conditions, there are things we can do to strengthen them.
In addition to covering your cough, getting your vaccines and washing your hands thoroughly, you should always:
1. Get quality sleep.
Poor sleep is associated with decreased immune function. Make sure you’re not only getting enough sleep (at least seven hours per night), but that you’re practicing good sleep hygiene—no screens in the bedroom, no food within a few hours of bedtime, limited caffeine intake, etc.
2. Manage your stress.
Chronic stress can cause a cascade of hormonal responses that weaken your immune function over time. Although there’s no such thing as total stress relief, there are ways to protect yourself against the negative effects chronic stress can have on your body.
Some people dislike the idea of self-care. We get it. It’s our nature to put others before ourselves. But think of it this way: If you don’t take time for yourself, you won’t be around long enough to be with the people you’re putting first.
Self-care activities like meditation, deep breathing and maintaining social connections have all been shown to increase immune function. Pick the strategy that works best for you.
3. Enjoy a variety of nutrient-rich foods.
Fruits and vegetables are nature’s best protective medicine. They’re fortified with countless good-for-you compounds and nutrients. Make a conscious effort to cover more of your plate with fruits and veggies. Don’t let red meat, processed meat, simple sugars or carbs that are not 100-percent whole grain touch your plate.
Aim to get a variety of foods from the produce section, as this will help improve the chances that all of your micronutrients—vitamins A, B, C and D, as well as minerals like zinc and selenium—are covered.
4. Move, move, move.
Regular movement boosts immune functioning. Keep in mind, however, that moderation is key as over-exercising is associated with decreased immune function.
5. Cut out all toxins.
This includes vaping, smoking cigarettes, overmedicating and drinking too much alcohol.
Read next: Health Secrets of the 8% Club
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @criene/Twenty20.com