How to boost your immune system

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We all know those people who never seem to get sick, or if on the rare occasion they do, they bounce back pretty quickly. We also know those people who seem to be sick a lot, or those who suffer a series of colds during winter that take them weeks to recover from, and seriously derail their weight loss progress.

Why do some people have a better track record when it comes to fighting off illness than others do?

Their immune system.

What’s the immune system?

Your immune system is a complex system designed to protect your body against pathogens (bacteria and viruses) and to help keep you healthy. Most of the time, your immune system does a great job of defending you, but sometimes it doesn’t and you become sick.

How well you fight off illness depends largely upon how strong your immune system is, or in the case of some illnesses, the ability of the pathogen to create harm.

Contrary to popular belief, your immunity isn’t a single entity that you can ‘boost’.

In order to increase your immunity and your body’s ability to fight off infection and disease, every component of your immune system must work in harmony. To create the right environment for your immune system to work at its best, you need to focus on a healthy lifestyle that takes into account several factors.

Eat a nutritious diet

The nutrients you get from food — especially from fruits and vegetables — are essential to keep your immune system working as it should, so it makes sense then to include plenty in your diet. Because different vitamins, minerals and nutrients are found in different foods, it’s recommended you eat a wide range of foods of different colours.

Protein is also an important part of the nutritional equation when it comes to boosting your immune system. That’s because the amino acids in protein help build and maintain immune cells. Be sure to read our blog about how to improve your nutrition, for further information about improving the nutritional value of your meals, because better nutrition will also lead to improved weight loss.

Reduce stress

In previous blogs, we’ve looked at the impact stress has on your life. It can make it difficult to lose weight, may even contribute to weight gain, impacts your sleep and increases the likelihood of you eating junk food. When it comes to your immune system, stress also gets a bad rap. When we’re stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol. Elevated levels of this hormone suppress the effectiveness of your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. Cortisol is the hormone that makes it hard to lose weight and increases fat accumulation around your middle.

Stress also has an indirect effect on your immune system, as it may lead you to drink more alcohol as a way to cope, and it also interferes with your sleep. It can also lead you to binge eat, emotionally eat, and engage in other behaviours that sabotage your weight loss.

Improve your sleep

Sleep is probably one of the most important things we can do for our health, because of all the processes that occur while we’re asleep. Sleep is a time when our body heals and regenerates. One of the things our body does while we’re sleeping is to produce and distribute key immune cells that fight or promote inflammation (as the body requires) and regulate the immune response. Failing to get enough sleep means your body won’t be able to do this efficiently, and therefore your immune system may not work as well. Sleep deprivation also elevates cortisol levels, which we’ve already seen suppresses your immune system, and interferes with weight loss.

Sleep also provides an opportunity for your body to rest and repair itself, so you’re not running on empty all the time, which also increases your risk of getting sick. Health experts recommend we get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. We also recommend prioritising sleep, which is why we put together our top tips to improve your sleep.

Move regularly

Regular movement is also an important part of staying healthy and boosting the immune system. It also increases the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) which helps offset the effects of stress. However, exercise can be a double-edged sword. Many people use exercise as a way to control their weight — and therefore end up doing too much. Excessive amounts of exercise will not only increase your stress levels and increase the risk of injury and burnout, but it can also reduce your immunity levels. However, doing the right amount and the right type of exercise can provide a significant boost to your immune system. To find out more about what exercise you should be doing, read our blog Training and exercise: What’s the best workout routine?

Limit alcohol

While there is nothing wrong with alcohol, drinking too much will not only play havoc with your weight loss journey, but will seriously impact your immune system. When your body has to focus on processing alcohol, it can’t work on your immunity. A review of the research shows that high levels of alcohol consumption weaken the body’s ability to fight infection and slows down recovery time when you do get sick. The review also found that those who drink large amounts of alcohol are more prone to develop pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, alcoholic liver disease and some cancers.

Maintain a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight is also good for the immune systems. Research has shown that losing excess body fat can actually boost the immune system, along with improving your health overall. However, you need to avoid the diets and quick-fixes if you want to lose weight permanently.

You see, research shows that diets and quick-fixes don’t actually work for long-term weight loss. What usually happens is that you might lose weight initially through starving and restricting your food, which actually causes you to binge-eat. If you’re one of the ‘lucky’ ones, you might lose some weight initially, but at the expense of your metabolism. What happens then, is that when you come off your diet, you end up gaining all the weight you’ve lost, and then some.

This only leaves you feeling worse than before.

Diets also compromise your immune system by limiting or eliminating certain food groups from your diet. They cause an enormous amount of stress, particularly if you try to be perfect, or if you continually struggle with the diet mindset that causes you to feel guilty when you eat food that you actually enjoy.

The secret to losing weight for the long-term is to build habits that support healthy, sustainable weight loss. And the good news is that the habits that lead to weight loss, are also the ones that will help you build a healthy immune system.

Lose weight and build a healthy immune system

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