Your immune system consists of billions of cells navigating through your bloodstream, tissues and organs and defending the body against foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses and cancerous cells. Some lifestyle habits can weaken immune health, while others help empower it. Following are five habits to kick and five habits to make stick.
1. Poor diet
A menu low in vital nutrients can impair the activity of antibodies, to the detriment of your immune system. A recent study illustrates how the Western diet, high in refined sugar and meat and low in fruits and vegetables disturbs healthy intestinal microorganisms, resulting in chronic inflammation of the gut and suppressed immunity.
Solution: Boost immune wellness with a nutritional upgrade. Replace processed, refined and fast food products with fresh, whole, plant-based foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. For a little inspiration, check out these healthy, no-cook meal ideas. Plus, a high-quality, multivitamin and/or mineral supplement can help fill daily nutritional gaps. At Vitacost, you’ll find easy-to-swallow capsules, adult gummies, liquid formulas and more.
According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 60 percent of Americans experience daily stress, which increases body levels of cortisol, a hormone that disables infection-fighting cells. Continual stress can also slow wound healing, promote obesity, and drive chronic inflammation, which in turn may lead to DNA damage and increase cancer risk.
Solution: Try the following healthy coping tactics.
- Exercise: This excellent stress buster lowers cortisol levels and promotes the release of endorphins AKA mood-boosting chemicals that act as natural painkillers.
- Yoga: An ancient practice that increases flexibility of both body and mind, yoga also appears to be as effective as drugs at treating depression and anxiety.
- Essential oils: Aromatherapy has a long history of helping to soothe stress and anxiety naturally. Calming oils include lavender, rose, bergamot, neroli, frankincense and ylang ylang. Try a few drops in your bath, mixed with body lotion or in a diffuser.
3. Too much alcohol
While the occasional glass of wine is one thing, heavy drinking can impair your wellness. Researchers have long observed a link between excessive alcohol intake and adverse immune-related effects such as:
- Acute respiratory stress syndromes (ARDS).
- Sepsis/poor wound healing.
- Alcoholic liver disease.
- Postoperative complications.
- Slow recovery from infection and physical trauma.
- Damage to T cells and neutrophils in the GI system.
- Cancersof the mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, colon, liver and breast.
Solution: Drink safely. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans define moderate alcohol consumption as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. For those who regularly exceed this amount, these tips can help minimize intake:
- Set a weekly cocktail limit and stick to it, especially if you have a history of problem drinking in your family.
- Enjoy mocktails and other alcohol-free aperitifs, like this luscious, ginger-infused Sparkling Peach-Mint Mocktail.
- Alternate every alcoholic beverage with a glass of ice water.
- Chat with your doctor to see if they recommend any additional measures.
4. Heavy sugar intake
On average, Americans consume 25 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is nearly 12 teaspoons more than government recommendations. This highly refined sweetener is added to 74 percent of packaged foods. Sugar can undermine immune health in many ways, starting with adrenal glands, which produce cortisol. Excessive sugar intake keeps this stress hormone chronically elevated, which can increase dangerous belly fat and promote metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, and other problems.
Solution: Scale back!
- Limit sugar intake to less than 5 percent of your daily calories – about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) on a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Read labels. Sugar appears as barley malt, beet sugar, brown sugar, cane juice, corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrose, fructose, honey, malt syrup, maltodextrin, maltose, saccharose and many other forms.
- Replace sugar with maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, agave nectar or calorie-free sweeteners made from stevia or monk fruit.
- Trade commercial soda for carbonated water, kombucha, or natural zero-calorie sodas.
- Enhance foods with antioxidant-packed spices instead of sugar. Try allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
5. Sedentary lifestyle
Couch potatoes burn fewer calories than active folks do, which encourages weight gain. Obesity increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as several forms of cancer. Along with slowing down your metabolism, a sedentary lifestyle also leads to a loss of lean muscle and bone density, while making us less resilient to stress and more prone to hormonal imbalances and chronic inflammation.
Solution: Make exercise work for you. The key to reversing sedentary habits is to find the best exercises to fit your lifestyle. Walking is free, easy and accessible. Work your way up to hiking, jogging or biking. Try a yoga class or spin class, lift weights, or play Frisbee or tag with your kids at the park. The fitter you become, the more you will enjoy these daily activities! Try these five tips to help you start exercising.
Little changes go a long way when it comes to empowering your immune wellness!