As the winter weather sets in, it's more crucial than ever that we all prioritise our immune health! Our immune system serves as our body's defence mechanism, protecting us from harmful pathogens and doing its best to keep us up and about. By understanding the importance of a robust immune system and implementing some simple (and even fun!) strategies, we can fortify our bodies against winter’s seasonal challenges, giving us the best chance of dealing with all those nasty bugs - and if (or should I say when!) we do catch one, we have the best chance to deal with it as quickly as possible.
In this article, we'll explore the immune system in more detail, its role in helping us stay healthy, the essential things we can do to help it thrive, the best foods to enhance its function, and some actionable tips for maintaining optimal immune health.
Ok, let’s start with a definition - what is the Immune System?
According to the Victorian Government Department of Health, the immune system is a complex network of organs, cells and proteins that defends the body against infection, whilst protecting the body’s own cells. Put simply, the immune system is like your body's defence system or personal army. Its job is to protect you from harmful germs, viruses, and other things that can make you sick. Just like an army has soldiers, the immune system has different parts that work together to keep you healthy.
When germs try to invade your body, the immune system recognises them as "foreign" and launches an attack. It has special cells called white blood cells that act like soldiers. These cells go after the germs and try to destroy them. Plus, the immune system has a memory. Once it fights off a germ, it remembers it, so if that same germ tries to attack again, the immune system knows how to fight it faster and better. A robust immune system is essential for preventing infections, reducing the severity of illnesses, and promoting overall well-being.
Right! So it definitely sounds like I want to keep it strong! What’s the best way to do this?
There are many things we can do to help strengthen our immune system, including eating well, getting enough exercise, adequate sleep & reducing stress. But given most of the body’s immune cells are found in the lining of the intestine, and microbes in the gut, thenumber one factor when it comes to keeping our immune system strong is making sure we eat well!
Following a well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet loaded in essential nutrients provides the building blocks for immune cells to function effectively. Ensuring an adequate intake of protein, vitamins (A, C, D, E), minerals (zinc, selenium), omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is critical to immune health.
A recent mini-review funded by Monash University looking at the Current Perspective of Plant-Based Diets on Communicable Diseases Caused by Viruses found that people who followed a plant-based diet or consumed an increased level of fruits and vegetables had a positive impact when it came to the severity of various viruses, including SARS-COV-2, with one of the studies included in the reviewdemonstrating a reduced COVID-19 incidence and lower mortality rates amongst people who consumer a higher intake of vegetables and fruits.
Ok, so what are the best foods to add to my plate?
Adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet are the best options for a strong immune system. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. They provide the building blocks necessary for optimal immune function, including strengthening immune cells, supporting antibody production, and enhancing immune system balance. By prioritising nutrient-dense foods, you give your immune system the tools it needs to efficiently combat pathogens, reducing the risk of infections and promoting overall health. Here are some great options to add to your plates:
Awesome, I will be adding some more of those foods to my diet - any other advice on how I can help my immune system?
Absolutely, while adding some more of these immune-boosting foods to your plate will help, there are a number of other import things you can do to help optimise your immune system, these include:
Great advice. Do you have some practical day-to-day things that I can implement to help?
For sure, while optimising your diet, sleep, stress and so forth is critical, there are some things you can do a little more of on a day-to-day basis that will help with all of the above factors, including:
Cook and create immune-boosting recipes:
This is one I can personally recommend from experience, we absolutely love cooking with our little girl Sisi and Sunday Pizza nights are a tradition in our household. Involve your family in preparing nutritious meals and snacks that support immune health. Get creative in the kitchen by trying out new recipes that incorporate immune-boosting ingredients like fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. If you have kids, encourage them to participate in age-appropriate tasks, such as mixing, chopping (under supervision), and decorating dishes.
Here are a couple of our favourite immune boosting recipes to try:
Dance it out:
Sounds a bit silly, but this works! Put on some of your favourite music and have a bit of a solo (or even better in a group) dance session! Dancing is not only a fun way to move your body, but it also helps improve circulation and stimulate the lymphatic system, which supports immune function. Often when I am writing, I will put some of my favourite music on the get in the zone and will often have a bit of a boogie as I am typing away! Plus, it just feels nice.
As a trail runner, this is another favourite! Spending time in nature has multiple benefits for overall well-being, including immune health. Take a hike, go for a run, throw on a warm jacket and have a picnic in the park, or simply go for a walk in the woods. Being in nature helps reduce stress, improves mood, and exposes you to fresh air and vitamin D from sunlight, which supports immune function.
Laugh and enjoy comedy:
Laughter truly is the best medicine! Watch a funny movie or series on Netflix, attend a comedy show, or engage in playful activities that make you laugh. Laughter reduces stress hormones, boosts mood, and improves immune function. This is something I wish I did a bit more of! One of my favourite things to watch are the US office bloopers! Guaranteed to make me laugh every time!
Practice mindfulness and meditation:
I’m personally a huge believer in the power of mindfulness and meditation. Engaging in mindfulness activities or meditation will reduce stress and support immune health. There are various apps and online resources available that offer guided meditations and mindfulness exercises suitable for both adults and children. Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath, observe your surroundings, or practice gratitude. Even better if you can combine this with a nature exploration! I use the Calm app for their guided meditations and amazing sleep stories.
With winter now upon us, safeguarding your immune system becomes even more important for maintaining good health. By understanding the importance of the immune system, providing it with essential components, incorporating immune-boosting foods into your diet, and following key tips for immune health, you can fortify your body's natural defence mechanisms to ensure you are at your best over these cold winter months. Prioritise self-care, adopt a nutrient-rich diet, and maintain a healthy lifestyle to help your immune system thrive and keep you well during the colder months ahead, you won't regret it we promise!
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