Easy ways to keep your immune system strong

Photo courtesy of Metro Creative

Diet, exercise, age and psychological stress may affect immune system response. Certain lifestyle choices can promote a strong immune system.

The immune system is a powerful component of the human body.

It recognizes when viruses, bacteria and other foreign invaders enter or compromise the body and then takes action to prevent illnesses from taking over.

According to the experts at John Muir Health in Brentwood, well-balanced meals and snacks are key to maintaining your weight, feeling good and preventing disease. Below are a few tips from John Muir to help you get all the nutrients you need to be healthy and fit.

How much of each nutrient you consume depends on your age, whether you are male or female, and your activity level. If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, be sure to talk to your doctor first before embarking on a new diet since your doctor may want to put you on a meal plan that specifically targets your condition.

Eat whole grains.

Try a whole-grain product in place of a refined product, such as brown rice instead of white rice, or whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta.

Don’t be fooled by brown bread. Brown does not mean bread is whole grain — molasses or other ingredients can make bread brown. When choosing to buy bread, check the ingredient label to make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain such as “whole oats,” “whole rye,” “whole wheat,” or “whole-grain corn.”

Products labeled “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100 percent wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain.

Add whole-wheat flour or oat flour for up to half the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin, or other flour-based recipes.

Popcorn is a whole grain. With little or no salt or butter it makes a great, healthy snack.

Get adequate sleep.

Doctors believe sleep and immunity are closely tied. A study of 164 healthy adults published by the National Institutes of Health found those who slept fewer than six hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than people who slept for more than six hours. Aim for adequate rest each night to keep your body in top form.

Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables supply the powerhouse antioxidants that are essential for protecting a body against free radicals. Free radicals may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Serve fruits and/or vegetables with every meal to ensure you’re getting enough antioxidant-rich foods.

Consume fiber and fermented foods.

Fiber can help feed the gut microbiome, which is linked to a robust immune system. The microbiome also may prevent harmful pathogens from entering the body through the digestive tract. Data also suggests that eating more fermented foods can further strengthen and populate healthy bacteria in the gut.

Exercise regularly.

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, advises the American Heart Association. Thirty minutes of exercise each day can go a long way toward keeping the body healthy. The U.S. National Library of Medicine says physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells. These antibodies and white blood cells circulate rapidly, so they may detect illnesses earlier than they would if you do not exercise. Body temperature also rises during exercise, which could naturally prevent bacteria from growing.

Minimize stress.

According to Simply Psychology, when people are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced, making people more susceptible to infections. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system. Limiting stress through meditation and breathing exercises, or trying to remove stressors from one’s life, may help.

A healthy immune system is vital to fending off or recovering from illness.