How to boost your immune system
Our Roy Chemaly, M.D., shares tips to keep your body in the best shape to fight off infection.
If you want to avoid the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the best thing you can do is practice social distancing, wash your hands thoroughly and often, and keep surfaces clean. It’s also a good idea to wear a cloth mask when you’re out in public.
You also can take simple steps to help keep your body in the best possible shape to fend off illness.
Your immune system is constantly working to detect and fight off infection in your body. That infection can take the form of bacteria or viruses, like a coronavirus, or abnormal cells that could later develop into cancer.
Like all your body’s systems, the immune system works best if you take care of it.
Roy Chemaly, M.D., our infectious diseases and infection control specialist, has these tips to boost you immune system.
Like any engine, your body relies on the fuel you give it. If you eat the best possible foods, your body will try to repay you with increased energy and a stronger immune system. And remember, foods are better than supplements.
“There's lots of talk about vitamin C or zinc to fight respiratory illness, but you don’t need supplements. These nutrients can be found in foods,” says Chemaly. “Eat healthy and avoid added sugar. This will all help your immune system.”
Focus on making two-thirds of each meal vegetables, fruits and whole grains. These foods contain valuable antioxidants and phytochemicals, which your body uses to keep you healthy. Make one-third of your meals lean protein like chicken, fish or plant proteins like beans or quinoa.
There’s no getting away from this basic truth. Your body needs to move and your cardiovascular system needs to be strengthened.
“Health is always linked to physical activity,” says Chemaly. “It improves your heart function, your lungs, your respiratory system and it will for sure boost the immune system, so you are stronger to fight infection.”
Chemaly recommends regular low, impact exercise at a moderate pace. That means that your heart rate is raised enough so that you can talk but not sing.
“Get up and walk a little bit, climb the stairs. Bike outside or use a stationary bike at home,” he says.
If you slip into mostly sitting to work, eat or watch TV, your whole body slows down, including your immune system.
Aim for good sleep
Don’t underestimate the power of rest.
“Sleep is so important,” says Chemaly. “Getting enough rest does improve your immune system.”
While you are asleep your body produces proteins that fight infection and inflammation, and it deploys them to deal with problems.
So if you don’t get enough sleep, your immune system loses this vital opportunity to keep you healthy.
If you are struggling with insomnia because of the coronavirus crisis or for any other reason, there are steps you can take to help you get good sleep.
Start by turning off electronics like the TV or cell phone and tablets in the evening. You can find more tips to help with sleep here.
Eliminate tobacco and avoid alcohol
Smokers are more likely to have serious consequences from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
Using e-cigarettes may also damage your respiratory system.
If you can quit, you will take a major step toward improving the health of your lungs, heart and your immune system.
When it comes to alcohol, there is no data to suggest that drinking is linked to greater risk for COVID-19, but alcohol can have big impact on your health.
It can disrupt your sleep and make it harder for you to exercise and eat healthy. All this has a negative effect on your immune system. Alcohol is linked to several diseases including cancer.
Stress and anxiety put a strain on your body so anything you can do to stay calm will help you maintain your best health.
Relaxation techniques, short meditation and talking about your fears are all ways you can limit stress during this time.
Think about the things you can change and try to let go of the things you cannot control.
“The main thing is to keep away from getting COVID-19 through social distancing, handwashing and using masks when needed,” says Chemaly. “If you're not exposed to it, you're not going to get it. Following a healthy lifestyle is the next most important.”
Learn more about COVID-19 and precautions MD Anderson is taking.