In this episode, we will be talking about 7 lifestyle changes for 2021 to boost your immune system and overall improve your wellbeing. This episode couldn’t have been in a better time, with a global pandemic and the start of the new year.
As you kick off 2021, reflect on the past year and set goals for yourself. I think the lockdown was a great teacher for many, whether it’s about your health or career. The key for 2021 success will require a mindset shift, not empty New Years promises. Don’t waste this upcoming year with stagnation, take this new chapter as a way to grow and develop yourself as a person.
Since we are in a global pandemic and the government nor the masks won’t save us from illness, it’s time to do our part in society and strengthen our immune health. There are several dietary and lifestyle changes to incorporate which may strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing microbes.
1. Getting enough sleep
What happens if you don’t sleep enough? Not getting quality sleep can weaken your immune system, lower your sex drive, make it harder to think straight, ages your skin, and leads to weight gain. Lack of sleep is literally making us fat, sick, inflamed, and imbalanced.
In fact, according to the CDC, more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. If you find yourself in the one-third category, it’s time to realize that the first thing you should do is prioritize sleep. We’d all love to be the sleepless hustler who works like a maniac, pushes hard at the gym, goes out on weekends, and always feels great on only five hours of sleep.
Newsflash: This person doesn’t exist, and if you know someone like this, they’re heading for burnout. Your brain does allow you to feel sleepy sometimes, but trying to block that feeling with caffeine will short-circuit a lot of important warning signs of sleep deprivation.
- Depressed mood
- Difficulty learning new concepts
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of motivation
- Reduced sex drive
In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night. Short sleep duration = susceptibility to infectious illness. The participants tracked sleep using wrist actigraphy for 7 consecutive days and then were quarantined and administered nasal drops containing the rhinovirus and monitored over 5 days.
Sleep deprivation may decrease the production of protein cytokines and antibodies. How much sleep do you need to bolster your immune system? The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is seven to eight hours of good sleep each night. Teenagers need nine to 10 hours of sleep. School-aged children may need 10 or more hours of sleep.
Sleep and vaccines
Studies have clearly shown that sleep improves the effects of vaccines, demonstrating sleep’s benefits for adaptive immunity.
Vaccines work by introducing a weakened or deactivated antigen to the body, triggering an immune response. In this way, immunizations effectively teach the immune system9 to recognize and attack that antigen.
Sleep is an important factor that helps determine the effectiveness of vaccines. Studies of vaccines for hepatitis and swine flu (H1N1) have found that when people don’t sleep the night after receiving a vaccine, the body’s immune response is weaker. In some cases, this reduces the vaccine’s protection and may even require a second dose of the vaccine.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle. Other sleep hygiene tips can be darkening, using a sleep mask, and going to bed at the same time every night.
2. Stay hydrated
Hydration doesn’t necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.
Our immune system is highly dependent on the nutrients in our bloodstream, and our bloodstream is made mostly of water! If we don’t have enough water, we cannot properly transport nutrients to each organ system. Staying well-hydrated is also very important for detoxification pathways, increasing lymphatic draining, and making sure we are clearing out any foreign invaders and other waste materials. Dehydration can contribute to muscle tension, headaches, low serotonin production, and digestive issues.
The easy rule of thumb for how much water to drink is a minimum of half of your body weight in ounces of water. This means, if you weigh 150 pounds, you need to drink at least 75 ounces of water daily. If you drink a cup of coffee – drink an additional 1 cup of water.
3. Eat more whole plant foods
An astounding 70 to 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut. The immune system is separated from the 100 trillion microbes of your gut microbiome by a single layer of cells a fraction of the width of a strand of hair. The two are in constant communication.
A strong microbiome empowers the neighboring immune cells for optimal function. The foods that are highest in fiber are whole plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Instead of focusing on a single micronutrient, like vitamin C, it’s important to eat a wide variety, since they contain different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that work in synergy.
These whole foods also contain antioxidants that decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body at high levels. Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers.
4. Exercise more
Improvements in immunity due to the regular exercise of moderate intensity may be due to reductions in inflammation, maintenance of thymic mass, alterations in the composition of “older” and “younger” immune cells, enhanced immunosurveillance, and/or the improvement of psychological stress. Indeed, exercise is a powerful behavioral intervention that has the potential to improve immune
We do not know exactly if or how exercise increases your immunity to certain illnesses. There are several theories. However, none of these theories have been proven. Some of these theories are:
- Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness.
- Exercise causes a change in antibodies and white blood cells (WBC). WBCs are the body’s immune system cells that fight disease. These antibodies or WBCs circulate more rapidly, so they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. However, no one knows whether these changes help prevent infections.
- The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better. (This is similar to what happens when you have a fever.)
- Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness.
5. Limit added sugars
Many experts say that sugar is one of the most harmful substances we can ingest. Take a look at western culture, where obesity and diabetes are on the rise. According to the American Heart Association, the limit for added sugar should be no more than six teaspoons of sugar for women and nine teaspoons for men (One teaspoon is 5g). In the United States, the average person consumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day!
Sucrose is the scientific name for sugar. Sucrose is naturally made by plants, through photosynthesis. The sucrose molecule is made up of two parts: glucose and fructose. fructose is not needed. Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver; any excess is converted into fat, which is then stored in the liver. A prevalent form of fructose is high fructose corn syrup.
A big impact at that – immune function decreases for hours after sugar is consumed. A research study was done by Loma Linda University in which participants were fed different forms of sugar found that the effectiveness of white blood cells (our immune cells that fight infection) decreased up to 50% after 1-2 hours of eating sugar, lasting up to five hours!
6. Eating more fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement
Fermentation is an ancient technique of preserving food. Fermented foods are rich in beneficial probiotics and have been associated with a range of health benefits — from better digestion to stronger immunity. These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms.
A systematic review provides evidence from a number of good-quality Respiratory tract infections that probiotics reduce the duration of illness in otherwise healthy children and adults.
Not to mention many fermented foods are rich in vitamin C, iron, and zinc — all of which are proven to contribute to a stronger immune system.
7. Manage your stress levels
Managing your stress levels and anxiety is key to your immune system. Evidence is tracing the pathways of the mind-body connection. For example, chronic feelings of loneliness can help to predict health status – may be because lonely people have more psychological stress or experience it more intensely and that stress, in turn, tamps down immunity.
Short-term stress can enhance the acquisition and/or expression of immunoprotective (wound healing, vaccination, anti-infectious agent, anti-tumor) or immuno-pathological (pro-inflammatory, autoimmune) responses.
In contrast, chronic stress can suppress protective immune responses and/or exacerbate pathological immune responses.
Activities that may help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, and yoga.
These healthy lifestyle practices can lessen the intensity and duration of your symptoms when you do catch a bug. Getting sick and getting better is part of a healthy life. The more you can build up that memory of different viruses, the more likely your sickness is to be uneventful.