Your immune system is a complex cell and protein network that defends your body against infection.
How does it work?
It acts like a cellular library that stores a record of every microbe it defeats. Microbes are harmful microorganisms such as bacteria that cause disease. When you encounter a microbe that your body has successfully defeated in the past, your immune system will use the information it has stored to destroy the threat and fend off disease. If you do get infected, your immune system will help you heal faster and experience milder symptoms.
Your arsenal of immune boosting tools
- Get enough sleep
- Eat more whole food and focus on plant-based meal options
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Proper hydration
- Manage stress levels
- Stop smoking
- Check your health
- Supplement wisely
- Protect yourself
Your body repairs cells, tissue and muscles while you sleep. It also uses this time to replenish energy. Healthy cells are the building blocks for an effective immune system. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, with teenagers weighing in at 8 to 10 hours and younger children up to 14 hours per night.
To create an effective sleeping routine, ensure that you limit your screen time before bed and that your sleeping space is well-ventilated, dark and quiet. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day so that your body can recognise the routine and start using the downtime to make necessary repairs.
Whole food is any food that has not been processed, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. These foods are rich in the nutrients that form the building blocks for cells and they contain antioxidants that fight inflammation in your body by breaking down free radicals.
The fibre in plant-based food feeds the healthy bacteria in your digestive system. A healthy gut prevents harmful microorganisms from entering your body through your digestive tract.
Fruit and vegetables are also rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, which aids in increased white blood cell production for effective defence against disease.
Maintaining a healthy weight reduces your risk of contracting serious health conditions such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. When your body doesn’t have to work harder to function around a serious health condition, your immune system can deal successfully with potential infections.
A healthy weight depends on your gender, age and existing health conditions, among others. Ask your doctor for advice on your ideal weight.
Moderate exercise wards off inflammation in your body and assists with cell regeneration. It also helps you to maintain your ideal weight and manage stress levels. Aim to include a form of exercise that raises your heartbeat for 30 minutes a day, such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing, yoga or cycling. If you are overweight or unfit, ask your doctor or a personal trainer to assist you with a safe programme to boost your fitness.
Your body uses water for all its processes such as digestion, heart and kidney function and optimal brain activity. When you hydrate your body, focus on options that are low in sugar and preservatives. Water is best, but you can also add unsweetened pure fruit juice and herbal tea to your regular hydration arsenal.
Most adults need between two and three litres of fluids daily, depending on their activity level and existing health conditions. Your body loses its thirst reflex as you get older, so set reminders during the day to drink up.
Long-term stress causes inflammation and impaired cell function, which affects your immunity negatively.
Keep your stress levels in check by making time to relax daily, engaging in exercise, and spending time with loved ones and on meaningful activities. If you feel overwhelmed or cannot get your stress levels under control, consider seeing a professional therapist for help.
The toxins in tobacco and vape smoke cause cell and tissue damage and impair various bodily functions such as the respiratory and cardiac systems. Smokers are therefore at higher risk of contracting infections. If you are a smoker, cut down on your daily consumption and join a programme to stop smoking.
Going for a regular check-up is crucial to keep your immunity high. A health screening can help you to identify health risks early and take action to prevent a chronic illness. All members of Medihelp medical aid have access to a number of annual health screenings, including the combo test for blood glucose, cholesterol, BMI and blood pressure. Once you’ve undergone your tests, you can join HealthPrint , Medihelp’s free online wellness programme for members, and complete your health profile online. This will help you keep track of your health, set goals for improvement and build a record that you can share with your healthcare practitioners.
Supplements such as zinc and vitamins C and D can assist you to build a more robust immune system. Some supplements can however impair the function of chronic medicine or affect you adversely if you suffer from a chronic condition. It is wise to always ask a doctor or pharmacist who knows your medical history for advice before taking any supplements.
Get applicable vaccinations such as your annual flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available to you. Vaccines teach your body’s immune system to recognise a disease that it has never encountered before and then protect your body from it. If your body then becomes infected with the disease, it will know how to fight it, your risk of developing serious symptoms is reduced and you will recover quicker than without a vaccination.