10 Foolproof Ways to Boost Your Immune System
Doctors offer their best tips for fending off illness.
Whether it's a mild case of the sniffles, a 24-hour stomach bug, or something more serious, being sick is no fun. But the best defense, as they say, is a good offense—and when it comes to your health, your immune system is your offensive line. Boosting it can help you stay well in every season, as viruses come and go around you.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists six things that will help keep your immune system working at its best: eating well, staying active, maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate sleep, avoiding alcohol, and refraining from tobacco use. But for a few more specific tips, Best Life reached out to doctors and asked about their favorite ways to boost immunity. Read on to find out what they said—and how you can feel your best year-round.
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Focus on the quality of your sleep.
If you're in bed for eight hours but scrolling on your phone for two of them, you're not doing your immune system any good.
"Your body needs adequate rest to function properly. Sleep disturbance and deprivation can lead to higher levels of cortisol, which can suppress your immune function," says Lucky Sekhon, MD, of RMA of New York. "Studies have shown getting less than seven hours of shut-eye per night is associated with a higher risk of coming down with viral illnesses."
Keep your home nice and bright.
To keep your immune system functioning at its best, Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist in New York City, recommends letting as much sunshine into your home as possible during the day.
"Take measures to brighten up rooms in your home. If you have a balcony or backyard, utilize it to get sun during the day so your body can continue a semi-synced schedule with the sun," he says. "Then at nighttime, dim the lights, reduce your news intake for the evening, and practice self-care in order to clear your mind."
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Go outside and get some sun.
While letting the sunlight into your home is important, it's also beneficial to catch those rays outside. "Get outdoors when the sun is shining," says E. Gaylon McCollough, MD, founder of McCollough Plastic Surgery Clinic & Skin Center and Total Health Spa in Gulf Shores, Alabama. "Sunlight allows your skin to produce vitamin D, which supports your immune system."
The Cleveland Clinic recommends aiming for 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure two to three times a week on your face, arms, or back.
Get up and go for a walk.
Your immune system functions best when you make an effort to up your daily activity. That means taking walks and getting up at least once an hour—basically, moving in any way you can.
"Staying active is a powerful way to boost the health of your immune system. It lowers the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol," Sekhon says. "Exercise has been shown to promote more rapid and efficient circulation of immune cells, such as white blood cells, theoretically making it easier [and] faster for your immune system to detect invading bacteria or viruses."
Exercise on a regular basis.
Besides taking walks, it's also helpful to your immune system to put an exercise program in place. "Exercise enhances the immune system," says Eudene Harry, MD, a physician, wellness coach, and holistic practitioner.
"Researchers found that not only did exercise increase immunity up to 10 times immediately after exercise but, in the hours following exercise, the immune cells seem to be sent to areas of the body that are more likely to get infected. Talk about intelligent design—something that we can easily do every day can help us boost our immunity," she says.
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Eat a Mediterranian-style diet.
One of the best ways to boost your immune system is through the food you eat—and experts say adopting a Mediterranian-style diet is the way to go.
According to Sekhon, much of our immune function is influenced by our gut health. "Eating a diet rich in healthy fats—think avocado, fatty fish, and olive oil—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts—will help reduce inflammation and fight off infection due to being high in vitamins, antioxidants, and key elements such as zinc," she says.
Eat your vitamins.
Harry says that when it comes to your immune system, it's important to pay close attention to what's in the food on your plate.
"Certain nutrients—such as zinc, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin A, and proteins—have been shown to support the immune system," she explains. "There are also studies that show excessive amounts of nutrients can impair the immune system. The best way to assure balance is with diet. Think hummus and carrots as snacks, and chicken vegetable soups or lentil soup."
Minimize your sugar intake.
It's tempting to snack on every sweet treat in sight, but all that sugar isn't doing your immune system any good. McCollough says refined sugars interfere with your body's ability to fight off offending agents and organisms, so it's best to minimize your sugar intake as much as possible.
Avoid overly processed foods.
They're tasty, sure—but filling your diet with highly processed foods can prevent your immune system from doing what it's supposed to do.
"It's very easy and tempting to stock your home with low-nutrient foods, such as chips and sweets, but these foods will leave you lacking in the nutrition you need to keep yourself healthy and strong," says internal medicine physician Erika S. Krauss. "Instead, look for frozen veggies and fruit, lean meat that you can freeze for later, and legumes such as beans, and nuts."
Take supplements as needed.
Most of what you need to lead a healthy lifestyle with an optimized immune system can be consumed through your diet, says Sonpal. But if you can't get everything you need from the food you're eating, you can always supplement. "Consult your doctor about any nutritional deficiencies you may have where supplements can step in," he says.
Additional reporting by Evan Rothman.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. If you have health questions or concerns, always consult your healthcare provider directly.