Leaves are turning, the days are cooler and crisp, and the smell of pumpkin spice is, well, everywhere. Autumn is upon us. And with cold and flu season on the horizon and COVID-19 cases on the rise, it’s also the season to take healthy steps to a keep your body humming this fall and all year-round.
Why is my immune system so important?
The immune system is your body’s natural defense against infection and the key to good health. Think of it as a wall. To offer the best protection against viruses and bacteria, your immune system needs to be solid and resilient.
There’s no magic pill or supplement that will bolster your immune system, but here are five healthy habits that will help build a strong immune system.
1. Eat your veggies (and fruit)
Mom was right. Nutritional deficiencies can weaken the immune system and open the door to infections. Eating a low-fat, plant-packed diet may help.
Load up on fresh fruits and seasonal vegetables rich in antioxidants, vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and zinc. Reach for a colorful array of foods like berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale.
Many foods can be inflammatory and deplete essential nutrients. Go easy on the meat and try to limit your intake of processed and fried foods, refined sugars, and flours.
2. Spend time outside
Harvest season is prime time to enjoy the great outdoors and soak in some fresh air and sunlight. Vitamin D is imperative for strengthening your immune system. If you’re unable to take in moderate exposure to sunlight a few times each week (don’t forget your daily sunscreen), consider a Vitamin D supplement.
Fall offers many activities to lure you and your family outdoors. Take a walk or hike, prep your garden, create an outdoor scavenger hunt, or build a jump-worthy pile (or 10) of leaves for the kids.
3. Get some sleep
Turns out it's not just for beauty; sleeping is when your immune system works to fight against colds, flu, and other illness. The jury is out on exactly how much sleep is enough, but 7 to 9 hours is the goal for adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends 9 to 12 hours of sleep each day for children ages 6 to 12. Check out the CDC’s handy chart to determine the right amount of sleep for you and your little ones.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, these good sleep habits may help:
- Limit screen time before bed. Blue light emitted from your devices can upend your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle.
- Set a consistent bedtime. Go to be at the same time each night, including weekends.
- Sleep in a dark room. Use black-out curtains or a sleep mask.
- Watch what you eat and drink. Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before lights-out.
- Exercise regularly. Being active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
4. Stay active
The benefits of regular exercise are seemingly endless. In addition to improving sleep quality and boosting your mood, exercise can also prevent arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.
Studies show that moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help immune cells regenerate. Brisk walking, bicycling, jogging, swimming, and hiking are all great options. Aim for at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day.
Running short on motivation? Here are some tips to help you get moving:
Get social. Form a neighborhood fitness group or make a standing walking date with friends. Exercise with others is not only a great way to connect and catch up, you’re also more likely to show up if you have a group or partner in the mix.
Make it a family affair. Build some memories while you up your immunity. Take early-evening walks, schedule a weekend nature trek or ask Alexa to play some dance upbeat tunes to make household chores more fun.
- Do something you love. Hate the thought of reps at the gym? Find an alternative that appeals, like kayaking, pickle ball, or martial arts.
- Get your flu shot (and COVID vaccine). Immunizations protect against disease by introducing a vaccine into the body that triggers an immune response. That allows the body to attack viruses rather than be infected.
One of the best ways you can strengthen your immune system is to keep current on your vaccinations, including an annual flu shot. You’ll protect yourself from getting sick and give your immune system an extra bump. Flu vaccines are widely available at health care clinics and pharmacies.
If you haven’t already gotten your COVID-19 vaccination, now’s the time. Studies show that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 provides a big boost to the part of the immune system that protects from viruses. It’s the best way to protect yourself and others around you.
Amazingly friendly care, when and where you need it
A strong immune system is the ticket for maintaining good health. But even when you practice immunity-boosting habits, illnesses still happen.
Indigo Urgent Care is here for you and your family when you need care for a minor illness or injury. Our trusted, friendly medical providers are available every day from 8 am to 8 pm, including weekends and holidays.