Several key healthy lifestyle habits can help keep your immune system working to stave off illness and infection. Think of the immune system as an orchestra. For the best performance, you want every instrument and every musician in the orchestra to perform at its best. You don’t necessarily want one musician performing on double speed or one instrument suddenly producing sound at twice the volume it usually does. You want every component of that orchestra to perform exactly according to plan.
Eating a Healthy Diet
The nutrients you get from food — in particular, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices — are essential to keeping your immune system functioning properly. Many plant-based foods also have antiviral and antimicrobial properties, which help us fight off infection. For example, research shows that spices like clove, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, and cumin contain antiviral and antimicrobial properties that prevent the growth of food-spoiling bacteria.
Keep Stress Under Control
Long-term stress leads to chronically elevated levels of the steroid hormone cortisol. The body relies on hormones like cortisol during short-term bouts of stress (when your body goes into “fight-or-flight” response); cortisol has a beneficial effect of actually preventing the immune system from responding before the stressful event is over (so your body can react to the immediate stressor). But when cortisol levels are constantly high, it essentially blocks the immune system from kicking into gear and doing its job to protect the body against potential threats from germs like viruses and bacteria.
Quality Sleep Aplenty
Your body heals and regenerates while you sleep, making adequate sleep critical for a healthy immune response. More specifically, sleep is a time when your body produces and distributes key immune cells like cytokines (a type of protein that can either fight or promote inflammation), T cells (a type of white blood cell that regulates immune response), and interleukin 12 (a pro-inflammatory cytokine). When you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system may not do these things as well, making it less able to defend your body against harmful invaders and making you more likely to get sick.Sleep deprivation also elevates cortisol levels, which of course is also not good for immune function
Exercise Regularly Regular exercise lowers your risk of developing chronic diseases (like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease), as well as viral and bacterial infections. It also increases the release of endorphins (a group of hormones that reduce pain and create feelings of pleasure) making it a great way to manage stress.
Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
Cigarette smoking can also affect immune health. In particular, the chemicals released by cigarette smoke — carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides, and cadmium — can interfere with growth and function of immune cells, like cytokines, T cells, and B cells. Smoking also worsens viral and bacterial infections (especially those of the lungs, like pneumonia, flu, and tuberculosis), post-surgical infections, and rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the joints).