Optimizing Your Immune System: Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise

Mar 30, 2024

How do I keep myself and my family healthy? — one of the many questions at the forefront of all of our minds as the news and circumstances of COVID-19 become increasingly more widespread and worrisome. In the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the importance of keeping our body and minds healthy is stronger and more significant than ever before. We continue to read about social-distancing, staying home or working safe, and why we should prioritize thoughtful hand-washing. While each of these initiatives is crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19, there are also a number of health practices that are helpful to think about and implement.

While much of our focus these days is on how to slow the spread by avoiding contact with others, we think our words of wellness wisdom are a good complement to those efforts. Keeping our body functioning at its best will empower our immune systems and our minds while giving us a sense of control that many of us may be searching for. So how exactly do we keep our body functioning at its best? 

FOCUS ON A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

Our first piece of advice is all about working in enough zzz’s. Sleep is an important foundation for all things, which is why we’re constantly told that getting enough sleep every night is so essential. While we sleep, our bodies and brain have the opportunity to heal, repair, and carry out important responses. According to the National Sleep Foundation, your body needs adequate sleep to produce a sufficient amount of a protein called cytokines. This protein is responsible for targeting infection and inflammation in the body. Want to take a guess about when cytokines are released? That’s right — during sleep. This important immune response and period of repair are made possible by getting enough shut-eye each night. 

Strive for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If that’s not possible, make it a point to incorporate two half-hour naps once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This will help you offset the effects that a lack of sleep can have on your body. Also, know that you’re not alone if falling asleep is harder to come by these days. In this period of anxiety and worry, it may be difficult to quiet the mind and ease your body. Try turning off the screens, deep-breathing, or establishing a calming routine before lights out.

Tips to Ease Anxiety Before Bed:

  • Try a calming yoga session
  • Practice deep-breathing
  • Turn off your screens at least 30 minutes before bed
  • Drink a warming tea or herbal drink
  • Eliminate caffeine for 6 hours before going to sleep
  • Take a hot shower and practice self-care
  • Catch up on news and updates earlier in the day, saving the evening for rest 
EXERCISE YOUR BODY

Our next tip has to do with making time to exercise. Though our current circumstances pose some limitations, the need to move our body in a healthy and deliberate way remains. According to Harvard Health, regular exercise is foundational to healthy living. By optimizing our overall health, regular exercise enhances our immune system and helps us feel better. In fact, during physical activity, the body’s stress hormones — adrenaline and cortisol — decrease, while the production of stress and pain-relieving endorphins increases. As we work out, we also potentially flush bacteria out of the lungs and experience a brief period of warmer body temperature that limits bacterial growth. 

Lastly, we’re all aware that exercise gets the blood pumping. Enhanced circulation during exercise is a natural immune-boost that sparks the immune cells and infection-fighting substances into gear. In other words, good circulation allows the cells to move freely and efficiently throughout the body to do their job well. 

So, what exactly should our at-home exercise regime look like? A balance between higher-intensity workouts that increase your heart rate and gentle exercises including stretching and yoga are preferred. We want to give our bodies the opportunity to remain active, while also scheduling in time for rest and recovery. 

AT-HOME EXERCISES TO TRY WHILE SOCIAL-DISTANCING:
  • Yoga
  • Stretching
  • Bodyweight core work
  • 20-30 minute walks while practicing social-distancing
  • HIIT exercises
  • Training with resistance bands
INCORPORATE WHOLESOME NUTRITION

The last tip that’s essential to keep your body at its best is all about diet. Since paleolithic times and across cultures, groups of individuals have turned to food as a source of nourishment and protection. Feeding our bodies with essential micronutrients like Vitamins A, C, D, and Zinc, is important for an optimized immune system. Nutrients serve significant purposes related to health and immunity, helping our cells work efficiently to keep us protected. While we want to consume a diet rich in nutritional value, we should also be mindful of foods that wreak havoc on our systems. Make it a goal to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables while avoiding refined sugar and processed foods that cause inflammation, gut disturbance, and fatigue. 

Foods to Eat for an Optimized Immune System: 

  • Beta-Carotene — This is an antioxidant found in many deeply-colored fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. After consumption, the body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A, an essential micronutrient. Vitamin A plays an important role in the immune system, protecting it from free radicals. Foods high in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, mangoes, and apricots. 
  • Vitamin C — It’s no secret that Vitamin C is an important nutrient for our immune systems. Consuming enough of this vitamin helps immune cells carry out their job in protecting the body. To help you achieve your daily dose of Vitamin C, opt for citrus fruits, strawberries, red and green peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. 
  • Vitamin D — Another essential micronutrient needed for a strengthened immune system is Vitamin D. This nutrient helps regulate our immune response by activating infection-fighting cells that play a role in diminishing the spread of viruses and bacteria throughout the body. Though our primary source of this vitamin is through sun exposure, some foods including fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk may help us supplement when we’re spending less time outdoors. 
  • Zinc — Playing a role in the growth and differentiation of cells in our immune system, zinc is another important nutrient to incorporate into your diet for immune-boosting purposes. Foods rich in zinc include legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils, nuts, seeds, and shellfish. 
  • Water — Keeping your body hydrated with sufficient amounts of water or water-rich foods is another important aspect that keeps your body performing at its best. Water allows the transportation of oxygen to various cells in your body. When these cells and the systems they work for have the oxygen they need, they can perform at their best. The same goes for your immune system’s cells. In addition to that, increased water intake and consuming warm liquids are thought to help prevent mucus build-up. If drinking enough water throughout the day is a struggle, try making a warm broth, herbal drink, or adding a squeeze of citrus to a glass of H2O.