Our immune system is the body's first line of defence against foreign invaders. Without it, our natural defence wouldn't stand a chance against micro organisms such as fungus, viruses, parasites and bacteria.
These pesky, health destroying intruders hide out everywhere and it is our immune system working around the clock that sets up protective barriers preventing them from entering our body.
Should one sneak by, our immune system has a back-up plan that kicks in and sends out an array of chemicals and proteins along with a host of white blood cells all seeking to find and attack the foreign antigen before it has time to reproduce.
According to Bruce Polsky, MD, St Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York, "We are endowed with a great immune system designed to evolutionarily keep us healthy." A strong one can keep all health problems at bay from dangerous diseases to common colds.
When working at peak performance, a strong immune system recognises and responds to millions of antigens producing what's needed to eradicate them.
Reversely, unhealthy habits/lifestyles weaken our immune system and open the door to dangerous invaders and the result is we get sick.
Simple healthy tactics such as washing our hands often and avoiding close contact with those affected with illness are obvious solutions that help keep us from getting sick. Taking a proactive stance to boost our immune system is the other.
Here's a few tips that help keep the immune system humming in tip-top shape:
Nutrient dense diet
Vegetables, fruits and other plants contain natural substances known as phytochemicals (natural compounds found in plants) that give them their colour and flavour. These phytochemicals act as powerful antioxidants neutralising free radicals before they can create damage.
They also serve as soldiers, supporting the immune system and the death of damaged cells, protecting the body from damage and creating new healthy cells.
All illnesses, diseases and infections are harder to ward off if the body is lacking nutrients/malnourished. It's best to choose and enjoy foods from all food groups and be sure to include some protein with every meal and snack.
The immune system is very responsive to exercise. After diet, it is one of the pillars that contribute to overall great health and strong immunity.
It activates the sympathetic nervous system and increases heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, making us feel better and more energetic. It kicks our circulation in, reduces anxiety and stress, slows the ageing process and helps us to live longer and better.
Recent studies performed at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine revealed that 20 minutes of exercise has anti-inflammatory effects that boost immunity.
Our state of mind does affect our health. Chronic stress increases the chance of illness because it depresses the immune system. Long-term, this kind of emotional and mental wear and tear ravages our immune system. Deep breathing, meditation and exercise all reduce the effects of stress.
Adopt a healthy attitude
Although we cannot control all events in our lives, we can control our feeling/attitude/response towards them. A positive, good attitude (seeing the glass half-full), being grateful every day in all situations strengthens the immune system and increases all chances for a positive outcome.
Laughter is empowered to boost our immunity because it decreases stress hormones, increases infection fighting antibodies and triggers the release of "happy" endorphins. As a bonus, it works our abs, lowers our blood pressure, improves cardiac health and boosts T-cells. Laughter truly is "the best medicine".
"The best clinicians understand that there is an intrinsic physiological intervention brought about by positive emotions such as mirthful laughter, optimism and hope." – Lee Berk, DrPH, Pro Loma Linda School of Medicine
Sleep is when the body rebuilds and restores. Lack of it weakens the immune system for a variety of reasons. One major issue is that less cytokines are produced. Cytokines are proteins released during sleep that target infection and inflammation creating an immune response.
Ongoing studies prove that those suffering from chronic sleep loss are more likely to get sick after exposure to viruses. If your sleep cycle is interrupted and your schedule allows, try making up the loss with a nap.
Two naps daily, one in the morning and one in the afternoon (no longer than 30 minutes duration) decreases stress and offsets any negative effects created by sleep deprivation on the immune system.
Step into the sun
The sun/natural sunlight is the body's major provider of vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body produce antibodies, for healthy functioning of the immune system. For example, one major reason for respiratory issues is low levels of vitamin D.
A simple fresh air walk in the sunlight of approximately 20-30 minutes helps ensure enough vitamin D is produced by the body. Fresh air and sunshine help heal.
A strong immune system doesn't make us invincible but throws the odds in our favour.
Our first line of defence against life's many health challenges is a healthy lifestyle. We can boost our immunity by adopting an "attitude of gratitude", donning our fitness gear, enjoying many good belly-laughs and eating healthy foods!
Our chances of falling ill are lessened and we get the with extra strength to fight any invader that gets through. It's a good thing.
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.