Hydration is key to multiple functions of the body. Not only does it moisturise skin, satiate hunger, and lubricate the joints, but the right amount of water helps your heart pump blood more effectively. Without sufficient liquidity within the bloodstream, it is much harder for oxygen and other essential nutrients to reach your cells, including the brain’s. This ensures all systems of the body are functioning properly. Water also helps to flush out unwanted toxins from the body through urination.
Finally, since about 75% of your brain tissue is water, if you’re dehydrated, it is almost certain your body and mind will soon show this. Dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels, which ultimately makes it harder to deal with everyday issues, and affects immunity.
By carrying a refillable water bottle with you and aiming to drink at least 2 litres a day, you can keep your body sufficiently hydrated to deal with its everyday endeavours.
It goes without saying this is beneficial for your physical health, but it is also the case that it is hugely beneficial for your mental health and maintaining a healthy immune system.
In the short term, exercise can help the immune system deal with pathogens, and in the long term, regular exercise slows down changes that happen in the immune system with ageing, hence reducing the risk of infections.
Regular moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or cycling is recommended, with the aim of achieving 150 minutes per week.
If you’re already feeling ill, it’s not a great idea to exercise intensely, but even some light stretching can be of benefit.
As well as finding enough time to exercise and work the body into a sweat, it is also important to know your limits and get a proper amount of rest (7-9 hours a night is preferable). This helps to rebuild, restore and keep the immune system healthy.
Sleeping helps maintain brain health, and this, in turn, helps with our other bodily functions. By resting, you strengthen the synapses in the brain, which help them deal with the following day’s activities.
A lack of sleep will also affect how quickly you recover when you do get sick.
To put it simply, bacteria in the gut affects the body throughout life by controlling processes such as the digestion of food, the central nervous system and, most importantly, the immune system. With almost 1,000 species of bacteria in the gut microbiome, each of which plays a different role, it might be no surprise they can overall weigh as much as 1-2kg–or roughly the weight of your brain.
Good bacteria in the gut microbiome also helps to keep the bad bacteria in check and communicate with our cells about how to respond to infection. A healthy balance is therefore desirable.
Studies have even shown that if there is too much of a certain kind of bad bacteria, you’re more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s disease.
By incorporating probiotics and prebiotics like kefir, kimchi and miso into your diet, you help promote a healthy gut environment.
It would be amiss if a company named Nutrition Kitchen didn’t give a plugin for how food affects your immune system. Ultimately, eating a diet rich in whole foods (avoiding as much as possible processed foods) is the most important way to support a healthy immune system.
High-quality protein sources rebuild lean body mass and amino acids play a role in thousands of cellular functions throughout the body. Eating protein also helps our body create antibodies which fight viral and bacterial infections.
Starchy carbs contain fibre (which helps our gut microbiome) alongside many vitamins and minerals that help the body’s processes. In comparison, refined sugars can suppress the immune system. Non-starchy carbs like vegetables are also vital. By eating as many vegetables as you can (the more colours, the better!) you get phytonutrients, antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals, all of which support immune health.
Finally, healthy fats (in particular Omega-3 rich foods) play a key role in immune health. They do this by helping our cells absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D, among others.