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Your lifestyle and your immune system: How to improve both

Your lifestyle and your immune system how to improve both
 

Personal hygiene and your immune system

 

There’s no doubt good personal hygiene practices are also central to immune health. These simple steps act as the first line of defense against invading germs and infection; make them an integral part of your daily life.

Stop the spread of infection

 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food.

  • Cut your fingernails; long fingernails can become a breeding ground for germs

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your elbow rather than your hand.

  • Brush and floss your teeth twice daily.

  • Don’t share your toothbrush with anyone in your family.

  • Store your toothbrush in an upright position and allow it to air dry.

  • Don’t pick healing wounds or blemishes.

  • Wash and bandage all cuts.
     

The ’hygiene hypothesis’

Thoughts on the ‘five-second rule’? A little disgusting? Or, a helpful way to strengthen immunity? One school of thought subscribes to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which believes that exposing people – particularly babies and toddlers – to ‘friendly’ germs can diversify gut microbiome and, thereby, support immune health. For instance, allowing children to play near soil and vegetation, which is rich in beneficial microbes, may enhance immunity. But this notion doesn’t give you licence to throw cleanliness to the wind; we shouldn’t be living in squalor, after all. It remains paramount we limit any exposure to germs that can cause serious illnesses. Never cross-contaminate food in the kitchen – keep uncooked meat and fish in a sealed container at the bottom of the fridge, for instance; always close the loo seat when you flush it; wash bedding and linen at 60 degrees; change your pyjamas weekly.
 

Does sleep affect your immune system?

 

Affecting every biological process in the body, sleep is one of the most potent performance enhancers known to humankind. And yet, it’s become a woefully undervalued pillar of health. Put simply, if you can improve the quality of our rest, you can improve the quality of our lives. Amongst other things, prioritising sleep will keep the immune cells and proteins of your immune system healthy, thereby improving your capacity to fight infection. Even one night of reduced sleep can drastically hijack your body’s defences. To support your immune system, you need to start making quality sleep a non-negotiable part of your life.
 

Embrace morning light

Paradoxically, prioritising sleep should start as soon as you wake up. Alongside your traditional morning routine, make time to salute the sun. Exposure to morning sunlight – and daylight, more generally – is a fundamental component of our evolutionary heritage. It helps to calibrate our internal, 24-hour circadian clock and prepares he body for rest at night by supporting the secretion of melatonin, our sleep hormone. To embrace morning light, avoid wearing sunglasses first thing, enjoy your morning cup of coffee in the garden and bask in the rays en route to work.
 

Sip coffee before noon

Caffeine is a famous sleep saboteur. This widely guzzled substance has a reputation for extending sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), reducing total sleep time, and diminishing sleep efficiency. Crucially, all drugs have a half life (the time it takes for its initial level of impact to reduce by 50%): caffeine has a half-life of six hours. This means if you fix yourself a coffee at 4pm, the caffeine will still be in your system around bedtime. To support sleep hygiene, enjoy your caffeine before midday.
 

Manage stress before bed

Ever notice you struggle to fall asleep after watching a hair-raising film? It’s not surprising. Increasing emotional tension before bed will, undoubtedly, come between you and a good night’s sleep. Try to manage any stress and commotion before bed: limit discussions about anxiety-inducing subjects in the evening; avoid delving into a new work task – scrolling through work emails, in particular, is a no-go; and refrain from checking your bank balance. Make a conscious effort to establish boundaries too. Let your friends and loved ones know when you start slowing down for bed, after which you won’t be available for work or social commitments.
 

Establish a healthy bedtime routine

The human body runs on a complex and sophisticated system of internal rhythms. Establishing a healthy bedtime routine is one such way to complement them. Following the same rituals every night, 30-90 minutes before bed, educates your body and mind to wind down for rest. This routine should be relaxing. It may include having a hot bath; lighting an aromatherapy candle; practising deep breathing or meditation; reading a book by a soft lamp; writing in your gratitude journal; or – arguably, one the most important activities – disconnecting from screens 90 minutes before bed.
 

Create a sleep sanctuary of total darkness

It’s such simple advice, yet so many of us choose to ignore it: make your bedroom a place of complete darkness. Darkness signals to our brains that it needs to prepare for rest. It triggers the secretion of melatonin: the hormone chiefly responsible for inducing sleep. If you’ve ever been camping, chances are you slept well. This is because you were plunged into the natural cycle of daylight, which dimmed gradually and culminated with total darkness. After sunset, the only light source was likely to be the soothing glow of a campfire. Air conditioning, electric alarm clocks, TVs, light pollution from street lamps, phone screens and blue night-lights are slumber thieves and known to inhibit the production of melatonin. For a good night’s sleep, you need to exercise a zero-tolerance policy against light.
 

Tips for embracing darkness

  • Buy a battery-operated alarm clock

  • Fit correctly sized curtains or blackout blinds

  • Ensure any landing curtains are drawn, and all lights are off. Remember, light can easily seep into your bedroom from elsewhere in the house.

  • Remove all screens and device-chargers from your bedroom (phones, laptops, and TVs)

  • Invest in blue-blocking glasses to reduce blue-light exposure from your devices in the evening
     

Create a sleep sanctuary of total darkness

 

Your daily habits play a hugely vital role in the health of your immune system. And while we all have our vices (yes, we’re only human), some are infinitely better than others: drinking to excess and smoking, for instance, don’t make the cut. Although these habits implicate many areas of wellbeing, your immune system has an acute disdain for them.
 

Drinking to excess

Many of us turn to alcohol to kick back and relax. But those ‘innocent’ glasses of wine are anything but relaxing for the body. Since your liver helps to detoxify and break down alcohol, drinking excessively forces this major organ to work overtime. Your adrenals, the small glands that produce your sex and stress hormones, are also pushed to their limits. Sooner or later, this can overwhelm and stress the immune system. Drinking to excess can have an immediate impact on your body’s immune response too. According to a study, just one night of binge drinking can weaken the immune system 20 minutes after reaching peak intoxication (1).

The NHS guidelines advise against drinking more than 14 units a week. (2) and if you’re drinking habitually, try to spread your consumption over 3 or more days. remember, you should have several drink-free days a week too.
 

Smoking

If you’re looking for another reason to quit, listen up. Cigarette smoke leaves no area of your biology unscathed – and your immune system isn’t an exception. Smoking endangers the first ranks of your body’s defence: the linings of your nose and mouth, which form a critical part of your immune system. It’s also well documented that nicotine, the main component of cigarette smoke, suppresses the immune system. Giving up is, undoubtedly, one of the best ways to serve your overall health and immunity.
 

Stub it out!

  • Make a promise, set a date and stick to it

  • A craving can last 5 minutes; make a list of speedy strategies to distract yourself

  • Change your drink; alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks make cigarettes taste better

  • Focus on relaxation and self-care; smoking is often triggered by stress

  • Get moving; exercise helps to generate anti-craving chemicals

  • Hang out with non-smoking friends
     

Exercise and your immunity

 

To be immunologically healthy, you need to be physically healthy. Like proper nutrition, regular exercise can contribute to optimal health, and therefore, optimal immune function. Working out rallies your immune system into action by increasing blood flow, so it can effectively carry out its surveillance job in the body.
 

Find an activity that sparks joy

Moving your body shouldn’t feel like a box-ticking exercise. It should be fun, invigorating and energising. Seek out physical activity that sparks joy – not incites dread. Perhaps it’s the mental health benefits of dancing that inspire you to get off the sofa? Maybe you relish the combination of building strength and flexibility in yoga? Or, could it be the ‘runner’s high’ that makes you feel most alive? There are endless ways to keep you fit. You just need to find what speaks to you.
 

Micro-movements

While exercise is essential, so too is moving throughout the day. No matter how long you pledge to break a sweat after work, sitting down for long periods can compromise all areas of health. One way to mitigate this is by punctuating your day with short bursts of movement:

  • Dance to your favourite song

  • Play tag with your children

  • Have a quick kick around with a football

  • Muck about with your pet

  • Practice a sequence of yoga balances

  • Grab a skipping rope

  • Do a set of star jumps

  • Perform step-ups on the stairs
     

Build strength

Beyond simply powering your limbs, muscle is an organ; it plays a crucial role in the running of your body. Since age-related muscle loss starts at thirty, regular resistance training is an essential buffer for health. Whether you choose to use weights in the gym or your body weight against gravity, aim for at least two sessions of resistance training every week. Squats, calf raises, lunges, triceps dips, and push-ups are some of the best exercises to get started.

According to the NHS, adults should perform some form of physical activity every day. The more, the better. They recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week (3).
 

Don’t overdo it

But you can have too much of a good thing. Although regular, moderate exercise is widely known to support immunity, emerging data proposes exercising excessively could prove counterproductive for immune health. In one study, researchers found more than 90-minutes of high-intensity endurance activity made athletes more prone to infection for up to 72 hours after their workout session. (4) Besides working out moderately, you should also refrain from exercising intensely – albeit at all – if you’re unwell. Your immune system is already fighting an illness; any additional stress may undermine your recovery.
 

Use Mother Nature’s gym

 
  • Go for a run through woodland, a forest or the beach

  • Practice yoga or Tai chi in your local park

  • If you live near the coast or a river, and you’re a strong swimmer, go wild water swimming

  • Join a Nordic Walking group and take to the hills

  • Do a high-intensity interval workout in your garden

  • Do pull-ups or chin-ups on a (sturdy!) tree

  • Cycle across natural landscapes

  • Go kayaking or canoeing

If you’re training for ultra-endurance events, don’t underestimate the importance of rest days. These essential nuggets will give your body and immune system time to recuperate.
 

Bask in nature

And why not take your workout outside? Experts purport bathing in nature may increase the activity of natural killer cells, which are an integral part of the immune system’s defence against infection (5).

Bonus: exercising outside also means getting a much-needed dose of vitamin D from sun exposure – another important tool for immunity.

 

References:

  1. , Acute Immunomodulatory Effects of Binge Alcohol Ingestion. Alcohol. .

  2. nhs.uk. 2020. Alcohol misuse. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/

  3. nhs.uk. 2020. Exercise. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/exercise/

  4. , , . Comparison Of Energy Expenditure Between Middle-distance And Marathon During Field Running. Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise. ;42:442.

  5. , The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health And Preventive Medicine. ;15(1):18-26.





 

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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.

 
 
Our Author - Christine Morgan

Christine

Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.

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