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Published on April 23, 2020

7 Natural Ways to Boost Your Immune System

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.

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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[1] 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[2] showed those with insomnia had, on average, less immune response to the influenza vaccine, while another study[3] 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[4] 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[5] 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[6] show that filtering blue lights in the evening improves sleep and fights insomnia.

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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[7] 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[8] 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[9]. 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[10] 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.

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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[11] 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.[12]

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[13], 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[14] 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.

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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[15] 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.

Featured photo credit: Vitalii Pavlyshynets via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Tobacco Smoke Induces and Alters Immune Responses in the Lung Triggering Inflammation, Allergy, Asthma and Other Lung Diseases: A Mechanistic Review.
[2] Behavioral Sleep Medicine: Is Insomnia a Risk Factor for Decreased Influenza Vaccine Response?
[3] Sleep Research Society: Transcriptional Signatures of Sleep Duration Discordance in Monozygotic Twins
[4] Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology: Subjective stress, objective heart rate variability based stress, and recovery on workdays among overweight and psychologically distressed individuals: a cross-sectional study
[5] Oura: How Oura Can Help Monitor Sickness
[6] NCBI: Blocking nocturnal blue light for insomnia: A randomized controlled trial
[7] Frontiers in Immunology: Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan.
[8] Journal of Applied Physiology: Immune function in sport and exercise
[9] Allery, Asthma & Clinical Immunology: Enhancing versus Suppressive Effects of Stress on Immune Function: Implications for Immunoprotection versus Immunopathology
[10] Alcohol Research: Alcohol and the Immune System
[11] Nutrients: Vitamin C and Neutrophil Function: Findings from Randomized Controlled Trials
[12] BMJ: Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data
[13] Cureus: Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012)
[14] JRSM Open: Zinc lozenges and the common cold: a meta-analysis comparing zinc acetate and zinc gluconate, and the role of zinc dosage.
[15] Eropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Possible roles of magnesium on the immune system

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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