As we head into cold and flu season, it's a good time to talk about immunity, what that means and how we can optimise our immune system. We asked Nicola Jane Hobbs, Reflex Nutrition Ambassador, to give us her insight on the subject.
The bad news is that you can’t fully control whether you’ll catch a cold or the flu — or how your immune system will respond if you do. The good news is that there are some simple daily habits you can develop to prepare your body to fight off viruses and support your immune system over flu-season.
Let’s start with the basics…
What is the immune system?
The immune system is just that — a complex system made up of individual cells and proteins as well as entire organs that defend the body against infection.
The main task of the immune system is to fight pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites as well as neutralising toxins from the environment.
The immune system works by recognising a foreign invader and initiating an immune response to fight the invader and restore the body to optimal function.
What does it mean to have a healthy immune system?
You can’t actively ‘boost’ your immune system — and you don’t necessarily want to.
A healthy immune system is a balanced immune system.
Too much of an immune response is no better than too little of an immune response. Too little of a response and you are vulnerable to infection. Too much of a response and allergic reactions and autoimmune diseases are more likely to occur.
The immune system is no different from any other system in the body: it works best when it is in balance.
Five ways to support a healthy immune system
There are no superfoods or magic supplements that will protect you against infection or disease. Instead, a healthy lifestyle is the best way to support a healthy immune system. Focussing on simple, daily wellbeing practices that support your overall health is the best way to keep your immune system balanced and healthy.
Sleep is a superpower. Aim for 7-9 hours a night. If, like 50% of people, you try and survive on less than 7 hours of sleep a night focus on:
- Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
- Banning mobiles from the bedroom
- Setting a bedtime alarm an hour before going to sleep to remind you to begin winding down
- Turning off all electronics 30 minutes before going to bed
- Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon
- Keeping your bedroom dark and cool
Exercise supports so many areas of our health — from our heart and lungs to our bones and immunity. Find forms of exercise you enjoy and aim to be active for at least 30 minutes a day.
Chronic stress can affect the immune system. Deep rest and relaxation help the body to repair and recover from the impact of emotional and physical stress. Aim for 20 minutes a day of deep relaxation such as:
- Yin yoga or restorative yoga
- Yoga nidra
- Guided meditations and relaxations
- Listening to binaural beats
- Forest bathing
Eating a balanced diet, including plenty of wholefoods, helps protect the body from malnutrition to support a healthy immune system. Focus on including:
- 5-10 portions of fruit and vegetables every day (1 portion = about 80g)
- A palm-size serving of protein-rich foods with each meal (e.g. tofu, beans, lentils, eggs, fish).
- 1-2 fistfuls of carbohydrate-rich foods with each meal (e.g. rice, potatoes, pasta)
- 1-2 teaspoons of fat-rich foods with each meal (e.g. nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil)
A healthy immune system requires a balance of micronutrients. Research shows that people deficient in certain vitamins and minerals — such as zinc, selenium, iron and vitamins A, C and E — can impact immunity.
If you don’t eat a balanced diet (for example, if you don’t like vegetables), you might want to supplement with a multivitamin HIGH5 Sports Vitamins, plus Reflex XFT Zinc and Magnesium, Reflex Vitamin D3 or Reflex Vitamin C.