7 Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System

Did the coronavirus make you reconsider learning how to boost immune system function and your overall health?

I bet the answer is yes.

Unlike never before, the topics of hygiene, immune function, and natural health remedies are amongst the biggest questions inside people’s heads, and for good reason.

Avoiding catching the coronavirus cannot be guaranteed by any strategy or drug just yet, but it is becoming evident that people with a strong and reactive immune system are able to prevent catching it (at times) or minimize the health risks it involves.

I’m not a doctor. Nor do I play one on the Internet. So I’ll leave the public health advice about the big picture stuff to the public health experts.

However, as a trainer with 10 years of experience and a few initials after my name, I do know one thing that is proven by science and backed by my own experience:

It’s always a good idea to do everything you can to have your immune systems firing away at full speed.

People always ask me what they can do to boost their immune systems, and, as much as I love and believe in supplements, herbs, and (when necessary) medical drugs, I always tell those people that the most important thing to boost their immune system is to master the basics first.

These are things that you can do today that don’t cost anything. I recommend you prioritize these basic steps for protecting and improving your health — and potentially your immune system.

While these actions are always important aspects of maintaining good health, they may be crucial during times of increased risk, like now.

1. Practice Proper Handwashing

The coronavirus, as well as most other viruses, are killed by proper handwashing for 20 seconds with soap or using hand sanitizer that is greater than 60% alcohol.

2. Don’t Smoke

Smokers have an increased risk of catching infections and suffering severe complications from those infections We shouldn’t need more reasons not to smoke, but a time like this highlights the importance even more.

3. Get Adequate Sleep

Sleep is important for health in general, and as a bonus, it may also benefit our immune function. For instance, one study showed those with insomnia had, on average, less immune response to the influenza vaccine, while another study on twins showed those with worse sleep had altered expression of genes related to immune function.

Again, the science in this area may not be robust, but when it comes to overall health, proper sleep helps. In times like these, you should prioritize sleep hygiene.

Since it’s hard to quantify the quality of sleep, I like to use sleep tracking tools that measure your nighttime Heart Rate Variability (HRV). A high HRV has been associated in several studies to an overall lower level of stress.

Companies who sell HRV tracking devices like Apple or Oura claim that, by tracking the HRV average of an individual, combined with resting heart rate and body temperature, they can quite accurately predict whether you’re going to catch a cold or the flu if you get in contact with a source of bacteria or viruses.

We still need more science to back up these claims, but, in my experience, tracking the above-mentioned variables is the best way we have to check on our immune system without having to get a blood analysis.

Also, if you’re isolated at home, that likely means more time on electronics like tablets, phones, and TVs. This may be a good time to invest in blue-light blocking glasses and to look for non-tech related activities to do in the evening, like puzzles, crosswords, or reading an actual book (not an ebook!). Studies show that filtering blue lights in the evening improves sleep and fights insomnia.

If you’re looking to get better sleep in less time, this article may be able to help.

4. Get the Right Amount of Exercise

Observational studies show that those who exercise tend to suffer fewer infections than those who do not. While those studies have confounding variables, the general consensus is that exercise overall is likely beneficial, with some caveats.

Some studies show bouts of strenuous exertion (>1.5 hours with an average heart rate >75% maximum) may temporarily decrease immune function. In addition, elite athletes who “overtrain” tend to suffer from infections more frequently than others.

My advice? Stay active, but remember that now is not the time to start a new high-intensity exercise routine. If you already enjoy strenuous exercise, consider decreasing the frequency or intensity by 10-20% (this is not scientifically backed but is recommended by some experts). Also, try to focus on home or outside exercise. Shared gym equipment, like weights and cardio machines, may have surfaces that transmit the virus.

5. Manage Your Stress

While acute stressors may temporarily enhance immune function, chronic stressors likely diminish immune function. Worrying about the stock market, stressing about having enough toilet paper, and focusing on the uncertainties of the future can raise cortisol levels, which may negatively impact our immune function. While data is difficult to interpret in this area, one study showed medical students with increasing stress levels before their final exams had decreased function of natural killer cells, the cells that are the “first responders” of our immune system.

We can’t make stressful situations disappear, but we can all take measures to control our response to stress. Meditation, mindfulness exercises, and getting outside and going for walks are all examples of activities that are free and relatively easy to do.

Try starting with a simple morning meditation each day. This guide can help you get started.

6. Drink Alcohol in Moderation

In times of stress, some people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. While meditation, nature walks, and mindfulness exercises are likely healthier ways of coping, for some they aren’t enough, and alcohol adds a little something extra. There’s no judging here. We all have to do what we can to get through tough times.

However, studies show a relationship between chronic heavy alcohol consumption and increased susceptibility to infections. The trick is knowing where to draw the line. While there is little science, most experts suggest that a reasonable daily limit is two drinks for men and one drink for women.

Once the above-mentioned basics are part of your daily routine, you can consider boosting yourself with supplements.

7. Take Supplements

Could taking vitamins, minerals, or other supplements help protect you from COVID-19? Contrary to what you might read on the internet, this is a question that can’t be answered definitively. Here’s what we do know about certain supplements that reportedly have immune-boosting properties.

Vitamin C

For decades, Vitamin C has been used to help prevent the common cold. Among other functions, this vitamin can help maintain healthy skin that provides a barrier to germs and other harmful invaders. In addition, some — but not all — studies suggest it may improve the function of certain white blood cells that fight infection.

While it’s unclear whether taking a Vitamin C supplement is beneficial for COVID-19, for most people there’s no harm in taking up to 2,000 mg per day (the upper limit set by the National Academy of Medicine).

Vitamin D

As both a hormone and a vitamin, Vitamin D plays a number of important roles in our health.

In recent years, people have taken very high doses of Vitamin D with the intention of boosting immunity. But is this an effective tactic? A 2017 systematic review of 25 randomized trials found that taking a Vitamin D supplement seemed to have a mild protective effect against respiratory-tract infections in most people, but provided much greater protection in those who were very deficient in Vitamin D.

If your Vitamin D levels are low, you may have a better chance of staying well if you supplement with 2,000 IU per day (or more, with medical supervision). Many — perhaps even most — people are deficient in vitamin D, so it’s probably wise to take a Vitamin D supplement right now, especially if you’re at increased risk for COVID-19.

Of course, your body can make Vitamin D on its own when your skin is exposed to sunlight, so try to get some sun whenever you can. How much sun you need depends on the time of year and your location. A good starting point is 15 minutes of exposure to a large body part (such as the torso or back). Just remember to avoid sunburns, as excess sun exposure carries its own risks.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral involved in the white blood cell response to infection. Because of this, people who are deficient in zinc are more susceptible to cold, flu, and other viruses. One meta-analysis of seven trials found that supplementing with zinc reduced the length of the common cold by an average of 33%. Whether it could have a similar effect on COVID-19 isn’t yet known.

Taking supplementary zinc may be a good strategy for older people and others at increased risk. If you decide to take zinc, make sure to stay below the upper limit of 40 mg per day.

Magnesium

During the last few years, magnesium (Mg) has been subject of research due to its functionality in the organism. It is one of the most important micronutrients, and therefore its role in biological systems has been extensively investigated. Particularly, Mg has a strong relationship with the immune system, in both nonspecific and specific immune response, also known as innate and acquired immune response.

Studies have shown that most people are deficient in magnesium and, in my personal experience with clients, supplementing with magnesium always brings several health benefits. There are no direct correlations to the supplementation of magnesium and fighting the COVID-19, but there are plenty of studies showing the importance of having an adequate intake of magnesium for overall energy and health.

My advice is to supplement with 400-800mg of magnesium split in two or three daily doses.

The Bottom Line

Obviously, proper nutrition and hydration play a significant role in boosting the immune system, but they deserve a separate article. I suggest you do your own research on what type of food may improve the immune system and what foods increase inflammation within the body.

Meanwhile, following the above-mentioned advice can only result in increasing your chances of going through the next crucial months while being as healthy and as safe as you can.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

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