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The Best Ways to Strengthen the Immune System

by Kelli Cooper

About Kelli Cooper

Kelli Cooper has been a writer since 2009, specializing in health and fitness. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Rutgers University and is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise.

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Your immune system is a complex network of organs, cells, proteins and tissues that protect your body against harmful organisms and help fend off cancer and other diseases. While certain circumstances out of your control can affect immune system functioning, making certain choices regarding your lifestyle can either bolster functioning or weaken it. Healthy living is particularly important if you suffer from conditions that affect your immune system directly or if you have chronic illnesses.

Reducing Stress

The Cleveland Clinic explains stress and altered mood states such as depression and anxiety directly impact the immune system. Experiencing these negative states for prolonged periods can wear down your resistance and increase your chances of illness. You can reduce stress in several ways and you should experiment with different techniques to find what you enjoy most and can stick with. Biofeedback involves using devices to monitor blood pressure and other physical changes in the body. This technique helps you recognize when these things arise and teaches you relaxation methods to counteract these harmful states. An online search can help you find practitioners in your area. Other stress-reducers include breathing exercises, guided imagery, tai chi, yoga, meditation or simply taking walk in a beautiful setting.

Beneficial Nutrients

Your body relies on the nutrients in foods to facilitate the myriad functions it performs day in and day out. Your immune system is no exception. Certain nutrients have been specifically touted for boosting immune system function. Antioxidants help remove harmful toxins from the body that can negatively impact the immune system. Physician William Sears, writing for his website Dr.Sears.com, ranks the antioxidant vitamin C as the most important nutrient for the immune system and notes it has the most research behind it. Vitamin C has been shown to increase production of infection-fighting white blood cells and reduces the risk of viruses entering cells. Good sources include citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, papaya, mangoes and peppers. Your body cannot store vitamin C, so you need to consume sources every day to maintain healthy levels. The antioxidant vitamin E encourages the production of cells that kill germs, cancer and bacteria, says Sears. Good sources include almonds, sunflower seeds and wheat germ. Bioflavonoids, found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, shield the body from environmental pollutants that can harm the immune system. The best way to get all the available bioflavoids is to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables of all colors.

Exercise

The benefits of regular exercise on problems like diabetes and heart disease have been well-documented, and they apply to the immune system as well. According to the clinic, studies have demonstrated immune system-enhancing benefits of regular walking, meaning you do not have to engage in vigorous activity to bolster your immunity. At minimum, aim for at least 20 minutes of brisk walking five days a week.

Supplementation

Sears points to research that showed children who took 1/2 teaspoon of flax oil daily had fewer respiratory infections. He also recommends echinacea, a widely studied herb, particularly in Germany. Sears explains many high-quality studies showing echinacea's benefits have been produced there. The Cleveland Clinic also suggests supplementing with vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene and selenium to boost immune function.

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.