As we usher in the cooler weather, it’s more important than ever that we do everything in our power to stay healthy. With the pandemic still impacting the world around us and flu season underway, our immune systems need to be in fighting form! In today’s blog post, I want to explain how immunity works and then offer two suggestions for giving it a much-needed boost.
Your immune system’s job is to protect you from whatever comes your way, be it a bug, a virus, or germs. A lot of people believe that you can quickly “power up” your immunity with a nutrient-dense smoothie or a handful of supplements, but that’s not how it works. Instead, conditioning it to more effectively fight off illness takes both time and dedication. Think of it like a marathon, not a sprint. Take an all-in, holistic approach to prep your immunity for this fall and winter.
Why Sleep Is Important to Your Immunity
Strengthening your immune system involves tried-and-true health habits that you’ve heard time and time again. Let’s explore two of these easy-to-adopt ideas: sleep and stress reduction.
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Get at least seven hours of sleep most nights. In fact, sleep may be the most important thing when it comes to your immunity. A study shows that people who got six hours or less of rest for a week’s time were four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus versus those people who got more than seven hours of shut-eye. It makes sense, then, that the risk of getting sick was even higher for individuals who got less than five hours of sleep a night.
Here are five ways to improve your sleep habits:
- Set a schedule and stick to it! Stay consistent with your wake-up time and bedtime, even on the weekends.
- Avoid circadian rhythm disruption by getting outside every morning for 30 minutes or so.
- Incorporate magnesium-rich foods, like spinach, beans, or nuts, into your dinner. This nutrient helps your body and brain relax, which leads to more restful sleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool! 65 degrees, though it sounds chilly, is the optimal temperature for falling asleep more quickly and sleeping more soundly throughout the night.
- Go with the flow! We all have an off-night every once in a while. Focus on what you can control — a healthy sleep routine, for one — rather than rehashing your sleep troubles all day.
Cope with Stress and Improve Your Immune System
You probably know that stress releases cortisol, the flight-or-fight hormone that enables you to run for your life if needed. Unfortunately, when cortisol is high, your immune system isn’t fully functioning. Instead, your body is focused on protecting you from whatever is threatening your wellbeing.
Rather than trying to avoid stress altogether (a hopeless endeavor!), reframe the way you cope with it, thus lessening your body’s cortisol response. Here are four tips to guide you in this effort:
- Tap into the power of gratitude. Start and end each day by writing down three specific things that you’re grateful for. With Thanksgiving later this month, now is the perfect time to start this healthy habit!
- If you feel like your to-do list is unconquerable, try to focus only on what you need to get done that day. Then, when you complete those items, you can move on to the things you want to do. This division allows you to identify your priorities and spend your energy accordingly.
- Confess your secrets! It may sound silly, but keeping secrets can cause you to release even more cortisol, which further weakens your immune system.
- Stay in the present moment. It’s easy for our thoughts to spiral with worries of “what if?” Instead, focus on the here and now to push those baseless fears aside.