Fortunately, we have this superpower called the immune system. Its job is to fight off harmful infections, illnesses and foreign invaders. Yet it also has a limit. Like a cup getting filled, various sources of stress fill our “cup”. At some point, the addition of strenuous workouts, under or overeating, alcohol, sugar consumption, lack of sleep, result in the immune system “overflowing”. An overwhelmed immune system breaks down. So if you constantly suffer from infections, digestive issues, feel constant fatigue or anxiety, this is a sign your cup has overflowed (1). Time to take a break and focus on boosting your immune system stat!
But first, let's get to know our immune systems a little better. Our immune system is a complex network of various systems, organs and immune cells that work together.
Meet some of your immune cells and their superpowers:
Super-Intelligent B-Cells produce antibodies that mark and recognize past “offenders” as if they have some sort of super-memory. They guard us against viruses and bacteria that have infected us before, plus kill them off effectively.
Destroyer T-Cells directly attack viral-infected cells and play a role in regulating our immune system. There are 3 types of T-Cells: “Killer”, “Helper” and “Regulatory”. Killer T-Cells destroy infected cells, Helper T-Cells help B-Cells produce antibodies, while Regulatory T-Cells turn off the immune reaction once an infection is cured (to prevent overreaction).
Cold-blooded Killer Cells a.k.a Natural Killer (NK) Cells identify, hunt and kill cancer cells and viruses.
Hungry Pacman a.k.a Macrophages are large white blood cells that gobble up fungi and bacteria.
Arnold Schwarzeneggers a.k.a Non-specific Immune Cells blast away anything identified as a foreign invader. They are our first line of defense against infections.
Communicators a.k.a Cytokines are small proteins secreted by cells when under attack. They are rapidly and precisely released to alert our immune system that the body is under attack.
Wolverine-like Re-generation Powers: Did you know our bodies constantly generate new immune cells? Unfortunately, this process of regeneration slows down as we get older.(2)
Meet the Lymphatic System: Our immune cells each play their part and are transported to areas in our body under attack via the Lymphatic System - a network of organs and tissues that transports a clear fluid around our body. This fluid is what contains infection-fighting white blood cells, which are pumped continuously throughout the body. How important is this system? It removes and destroys waste, debris, toxins, cancer cells, pathogens, dead blood cells, rogue cells, and even removes the excess/waste fluids between cells that can cause inflammation. It’s also responsible for transporting fats and fat soluble vitamins from our digestive system to our cells for use. The organs that keep the system working include the Spleen, Liver, Bone Marrow, Thymus gland, Appendix and Tonsils. Together, they prepare, train and create antibodies, recognize and attack dangerous invaders, purify the blood, communicate and transport cells, store good bacteria and more! Now, check out these 8 simple ways to get your immune system running at optimal levels!Step 1: Wiggle & Werk. The lymphatic system does not actually have its own pump. You see, our bodies were designed to move and movement encourages infection-fighting lymph fluid to pump through the body (3). In fact, steady-state exercise has been found to increase our lymphatic flow by double or triple! So even if you're getting an hour of exercise a day while the rest of your day is sedentary - you're not optimizing your immune system. Don't worry, you don’t need to do an intense workout every hour. Simple movements such as deep breathing, stretching, mobility exercises, yoga or walking every 60-90 minutes helps to promote lymph system flow (4). So find joy in a daily walk which can also give you an immune boost, this has been shown to increase white blood cell count (5). If you are sitting at a desk, get up and stretch every hour or practice deep breathing. Deep breathing helps to pump fluid through the lymphatic system (6). On the other hand, if you need a more comprehensive home workout program to up the intensity, check out our FREE 14 Day Home Transformation Workout Program here. Step 2: Forest Bathing. Okay, you don’t need to literally bathe in a forest to boost immunity. Step into nature, enjoy some sun and breathe in fresh air to lower blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Studies show spending time in nature lowers fatigue, stress and anxiety. Additionally, your risk of getting a cold or flu decreases significantly(7)! Immersing in nature also means getting sunlight - double win! Some exposure to sunlight is essential for our bodies to create Vitamin D, for regenerating T-Cells, strengthening our innate immune system (especially against infections) and maintaining bone health. Studies also show Vitamin D lowers risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even autoimmune diseases. If you’ve heard of Japanese Forest Bathing, or the act of immersing in nature, you will know that surrounding your senses in the calming sights and sounds of green can “increase activity and number of NK cells, and levels of intra-cellular anti-cancer proteins” (9). These effects could be a result of breathing in phytocides released by trees, and a decrease of stress hormone levels when in nature (9). Fortunately for us, you can “Forest Bathe” anywhere in the world. Simply walking, breathing, meditation and yoga in nature provide you incredible immune health benefits.
Seaweed / Sea Vegetables: They are a great source of prebiotic fibre and a micronutrient powerhouse, containing Vitamins C, B, A, E, Iron and Iodine.
Vegetables and Chlorophyll Rich Foods: Eat a variety of veggies (your plate should look as colorful as the rainbow). The wider the variety of good guys living in our gut the better because each one of them performs different immune boosting benefits. They each survive on different vitamins and minerals which you can only get from a diverse diet.
Prebiotics: This is the non-digestible part of food found in foods like onion, garlic, green banana, apple skin, beans and more. Prebiotics pass through the small intestine to the colon where it is fermented, feeding the good bacteria colonies living there. They then produce beneficial Short-chain Fatty Acids (SCFA) which are important for regulation of our metabolism, immune system and cell proliferation. A high-fibre diet also maintains the protective mucus layer lining our gut which protects us from microbe invasions, infections and chronic inflammatory diseases. In other words, diets with low dietary fibre means higher susceptibility to infections! (15) Get your fibre from vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole-grains. Our favourite source of fibre are green bananas which is made of a type of fibre called resistant starch. They taste delicious when steamed and don’t contain the sugar and high gluten index (G.I) of ripe bananas.
Avoid antibiotics and processed foods: Antibiotics kill the bad guys but also the good guys, damaging our gut’s mucus layer - making it penetrable to viruses and bacteria. In other words, you increase the likelihood of getting chronic inflammatory diseases and infections when you consume antibiotics and processed foods regularly.
Healthy Natural Fats: Your body needs fat to produce hormones, build bouncy cell walls that smooth out wrinkles, and give you energy! Fats like olive oil, avocados and coconut oil also help to control cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.
Warm Spices such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cardamon and cinnamon, bring “warmth” to the body and encourage lymphatic flow. Consuming spices have also been found to protect us from acute and chronic diseases due to high anti-oxidant levels, and can reduce harmful effects of food and environmental contaminants (17).
Bone Broth: Rich in gelatin, bone broth brings a variety of health benefits including reducing inflammation in the gut, and strengthening nails and hair. Studies found that 70% of participants who consume gelatin had thicker hair by up to 45% thickness! Gelatin also soothes and heals our gut lining, particularly important if you suffer from leaky gut. Bone broths are also rich in glucosamine and chondroitin which can help to ease joint pain, and contains hyaluronic acid which lubricate joints (18) To make, simply boil chicken bones with roughly chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrots, any herbs and spices. Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and simmer for at least 8 hours. Before you start, do flash boil the bones and throw away the water to remove dirt from the chicken.
We hope these steps become part of your healthy lifestyle. Whether you feel stressed, are working from home or travelling, these simple methods could help you build a strong immune system for life! Remember that our immune system doesn’t require fancy tricks. It requires consistency and care. Stay Tuned for Part 2 to Discover the Next 4 Immune Boosters!
Share this info with a friend who might find it useful. And remember that health is a journey, not a goal.
Written by: Olivia Woo
Certified Personal Trainer
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17. Stevenson, Shawn, "Help Me Sleep! 21 Ways to Cure Your Sleep Problems Part 1." The Model Health Show Episode 4, https://themodelhealthshow.com/secret-life-of-your-immune-system/
18. Stevenson, Shawn, "The Secret Life Of Your Immune System." The Model Health Show, Episode 166,https://themodelhealthshow.com/secret-life-of-your-immune-system/