News of a possible tridemic – or tripledemic – has dominated the news in recent weeks. Pediatric units across the country are faced with an alarming surge of children hospitalized with respiratory synctyial virus, more commonly known as RSV, and influenza. This surge comes as COVID-19 cases are starting to rise as well.
So, how do you stay healthy with so many germs circulating? To answer that question, it’s important to understand the role the immune system plays. Your immune system is responsible for defending your body against infection and disease. It fights everything from cold and flu viruses to serious conditions such as cancer. Vaccines help by building immunity against specific diseases by safely imitating an infection. In addition to staying up to date on recommended vaccines, there are other ways to strengthen your immune system.
Here are 8 tips to build a strong, healthy immune system so it can take care of you.
A well-balanced diet provides your body with a variety of nutrients that support optimal immune function. Your diet should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products. Limit processed foods because these tend to be high in saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
If you suspect you are not getting the required amount of vitamins and minerals, a daily multivitamin or mineral supplement may be beneficial. But always talk to your healthcare provider before using nutritional supplements because too much of certain vitamins can actually harm your health.
Physical activity is good for your body. Regular exercise improves heart health, lowers blood pressure, helps keep weight in check, and protects against diseases like diabetes. What’s more, it can help you feel better, sleep better, and reduce anxiety. Now, the CDC says there is growing evidence that suggests it may benefit your immune system as well. Always check with a doctor before starting an exercise regimen.
Maintain a healthy weight
According to the CDC, obesity is linked to impaired immune functions. It may also lower vaccine effectiveness for diseases including influenza, hepatitis B, and tetanus. That is particularly worrisome when you consider nearly 42 percent of people living in the U.S. are obese. Eating well and exercising regularly can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Get enough sleep
A good night’s sleep helps you function better during the day, but a lack of sleep has been shown to impair immune function. One study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found participants who slept fewer than 5 hours per night were 4.5 times more likely to develop a cold compared to those who slept more than 7 hours per night. Growing evidence suggests sleep also plays an important role in immunological memory and proper sleep may enhance the efficacy of vaccines. Another NIH study found proper sleep may improve your body’s antibody responses to influenza vaccines.
Drink only in moderation
The CDC says that over time, excessive alcohol use can weaken the immune system. If you drink, do so in moderation. According to current dietary guidelines for alcohol, that means limiting alcohol intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women.
Do Not Smoke
More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, according to the CDC, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking also increases the risk of problems with the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
If you’re always feeling stressed, you may be putting your immune system at risk. Stress can weaken your immune system, increasing your risk for infection. It’s hard to eliminate all stress, but walking, laughing, connecting with friends, yoga, and meditation are a few ways you can relieve stress.
Other ways to avoid infection
Your immune system is working hard to keep you healthy, but sometimes germs get through and make you sick. Give your immune system a little help by limiting your exposure to germs before they enter your body. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, cook meats to the proper temperature to avoid food-born illness, wear a mask if you’re going to be in a large crowd (especially if rsv, flu & covid rates are high in your area), and practice social distancing.