Our long white cloud is considered the 18th healthiest country in the world, this takes into account health risks (smoking, blood pressure, obesity), clean water, life expectancy, malnutrition and causes of death. But despite our (somewhat) successful ranking by the WHO, we also coincidentally place as the 18th most obese country in the world.
Why is this worth acknowledging? Firstly, it’s a cool fact for your next Zoom Quiz Night! Secondly, obesity and malnutrition is known to impair the immune function… meaning we as a nation are at risk of sub-par immune systems because of our dietary choices. On the plus side, lifestyle is the leading driver for overall health, which means we are in control of how healthy (or unhealthy) we are.
Disclaimer: There are various conditions, both acute and chronic that compromise the immune system, limiting the effectiveness of the below lifestyle modifications.
Here is what you can do to improve your immune system, and reduce your risk of serious health complications:
1) Get enough sleep – Studies vary, but anything between 7-9 hours is usually the sweet-spot for most adults! Sleeping allows your body to rest and repair which is imperative for normal physiological functions.
2) Manage stress levels – Stress dramatically impacts our immunity, particular if we are unable to effectively cope with stressors over an extended period of time; leading to chronic stress and increasing your risk of inflammation.
3) Seek support for your mental health – When we are feeling emotionally unwell, we are less able to manage stress effectively. Poor mental health also affects our ability to perform daily tasks, such as exercising, sleeping and eating (all of which impact our immune systems).
4) Increase exposure to Vitamin D – Whether supplemented, or naturally absorbed, Vitamin D can reduce our susceptibility to infection. It also helps our bodies absorb calcium, which is essential for good bone health!
5) Abstain from smoking and alcohol consumption – Excessive alcohol consumption can directly suppress our immune responses, alongside smoking which leads to greater susceptibility to infections, particularly pneumonia and influenza.
6) The goldilocks approach to exercise - Not too much… and not too little! Finding the right amount of exercise for you requires trial-and-error. Physical activity holds a myriad of benefits for the immune system, but over-exercising can suppress immune function and increase risk of upper respiratory tract infections.
7) Ensure appropriate nutrition – Eating the correct foods, in the correct quantities is paramount for optimal health! We want to be consuming mainly nutrient-dense whole-foods, to help us meet our daily micronutrient goals and fuel our body effectively.
So what foods should we be eating to support our immunity?
Citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C, which is believed to increase production of White Blood Cells; your bodies best defenders against bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungus! Try: Grapefruit, oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes
Dark green vegetables are applauded for their fiber, folate, iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium and antioxidant content! All these powerful micronutrients promote healthy physiological functions and in turn, play a critical role in regulating your immune system. Try: Broccoli, bok choy, kale, collard greens, brussel sprouts and chard
Probiotics and cultures are a hot topic in the nutrition industry, because of the growing research connecting gut-biome to auto-immune diseases. An imbalance of gut microbiota has been linked to IBD and IBS, alongside potential implications for mental health due to the ‘Gut-Brain Connection’! Try: Fermented foods - yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, tempeh
Garlic has been used historically for its antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is believed to support the body in destroying bacteria due to a compound known as ‘allicin’!
Ginger is widely believed to have anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects, combatting inflammation and maintaining a healthy immune system.
It’s normal to feel helpless during these times, but by taking control of our health through simple lifestyle changes and good nutrition, we can ensure our bodies are performing at their best! Try implementing a few of our lifestyle recommendations, and add some more nutrient-dense kai to your plate to kick-start your journey to a stronger immune system!