Improving Immunity: Five Simple Steps
Are your co-workers sneezing, coughing, and pounding Vitamin C? Is your spouse complaining of sinus drip? Do you anxiously watch your children bring home every mutation of every cold virus from pre-school? Don’t worry – it’s not selfish to hope that you and your family can bypass whatever virus is going around. Personally, I hate when my husband and I get sick at the same time (or in quick succession) – someone needs to be well! Improving immunity means not only that you better your chances of avoiding most of the colds and flus that go around each year, but you will also feel your best and stay on top of your fitness!
While you can never 100% safeguard against catching the occasional virus, you can dramatically increase your chances of consistent health by taking five simple steps (in addition to a generally healthy diet).
Vary the intensity of your workouts.
Aim for exercising about 45 minutes, five times per week. A few of the workouts should be sweaty and intense, but the others can be moderate (or even gentle). What I often recommend for the average client is the following weekly format:
- 2 sessions of very challenging weight training
- 2 sessions of steady-state cardio
- 1 session of sprint intervals or HIIT
Consistent exercise boosts your immunity (especially if you exercise outside in sunlight!), but there is a drop-off in benefits if your level of intensity is too high and too frequent. In fact, if you consistently over-do it at the gym and are addicted to gut-busting classes, you may find over time that you catch lots of colds and feel generally run-down. Eventually, your physique results will suffer, as well.
Suggestion: Create a weekly workout schedule that incorporates lower-intensity workout days stacked between high-intensity workout days.
Sleep 7-8 hours at the same time every night.
While the pace of life only seems to get faster, we need to learn how to slow down. Sleep is essential for improving immunity. It’s when our body rebuilds and patches itself up. If you are running low on sleep, you are making yourself vulnerable to catching every little cold and flu virus that passes through your workplace (or your kid’s elementary school). Most adults need 7-8 hours. Don’t try to emulate people who say they “only need” 4-5 hours a night. Maybe they do, but they’re the exception, not the rule.
Here are four strategies to get better sleep:
- Develop a routine at night that is the same every single night.
- Turn off (and put away) close-to-your-face screens (phones, tablets, etc.) after dinner.
- Stop working after dinner and switch activities to something enjoyable or at least neutral.
- Get up at the same time every morning. This will eventually force your bedtime to correct itself.
Remember, the consistency of when you sleep is almost as important as getting enough sleep.
Suggestion: This week, try setting your alarm for the same time every morning – and not snoozing.
Incorporate intentional recovery.
An important aspect of improving immunity (and overall whole-body health) is recognizing your body’s need for recovery, renewal, and rest… that’s not sleep. “Cool-down time,” whether it’s after a workout or simply after a hard situation or day, helps your body de-escalate the flood of hormones like cortisol, which control your stress levels but – when called upon too frequently – create burnout and, yes, lowered immunity.
Here are the four primary ways that you can get in this intentional recovery time to boost your immunity:
- Have an after-work routine that includes some kind of mindful, non-plugged-in behavior, like a brisk walk or run.
- Get regular massages.
- After intense workouts, lie down on your back (once you’ve cooled down a little), and put your feet up.
- Take yoga or meditation classes.
Suggestion: Try putting your feet up after a tough workout for at least 5 minutes.
De-stress by reducing your commitments or changing situations.
Sometimes, stress is so chronic that you need more than a meditation class. You need a major overhaul. Maybe it’s as simple as reducing your commitments (maybe your kids don’t need to be in every sport in every season), but it may be as complex and long-term as changing jobs or addressing deep-seated relationship issues.
Take it easy with this one, because your decisions will probably affect other people that you love.
Suggestion: Keep a diary every morning for seven days, by writing for 10 minutes when you wake up. After a week, note which situations and patterns cause the most stress, and talk to a trusted friend or therapist about actions that you could take.
Wash your hands frequently, and never eat with your hands (or touch your face) in public.
This is perhaps the most practical suggestion and the easiest to implement – but the most overlooked. I often feel that people eat oranges, chew zinc, and drink AirBorne by the gallon as if they are magic substances, but forget that viruses and infections are caused by germs and bacteria. Basic hygiene helps to keep these organisms at bay, and prevents your immunity from becoming overworked in the first place.
One of the easiest ways to prevent illness is to develop the habit of frequently washing your hands and avoiding any hand-to-face contact when in public. This includes touching your eyes or eyelashes, eating with your hands, biting your nails, and picking at blemishes.
Suggestion: Every time you see a sink and soap, wash your hands.