It’s never been so important to show your immune system some love with exercise, food & sleep
Our immune system is a wonderful thing, made up of cells, tissues and organs that all work together to help keep our bodies in tip-top condition. It’s the body’s defence against illness and infection, and works by destroying any unfamiliar cells such as viruses and bacteria. Taking steps to keep your immune system fighting fit is super important – especially now we're all thinking about our health more because of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Can my immune system defend me against coronavirus?
COVID-19 can affect us all in different ways. How our immune system responds to viruses is influenced by lots of things. These include our general health, our age, genes and other bacteria and viruses we’ve come into contact with in the past. Some people who are infected may experience the COVID-19 symptoms we’ve all come to recognise, while others may have no symptoms at all. For most of us, our immune system will be strong enough to clear the infection. For some, unfortunately this isn't the case and their condition will worsen which may mean they’ll need to go to hospital.
While there are definitely things we can do to look after our immune system, the most effective way to help prevent a coronavirus (COVID-19) infection is with a vaccine. Scientists and governments around the world are working on developing and distributing vaccinations to help protect people against COVID-19. While the vaccine may help protect you from coronavirus, it’s still important to follow social distancing guidance and other restrictions to keep each other safe.
How can I support my immune system?
Eating lots of leafy, green stuff may not stop you from catching coronavirus, but it will be good for you. Filling your plate with greens, grains and healthy fats can really help support the body’s immune defences and help keep you healthy. Maintaining a varied, balanced diet (for the most part) is the first step to great immune system health. The food we eat every day contains nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are essential for keeping us up and running.
Think about vitamin C
Protecting your cells is really important when it comes to immune system health and vitamin C is great for helping to do just that. Foods such as oranges – or orange juice – red peppers, broccoli, potatoes and spinach are all good sources of vitamin C, which also helps to maintain healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage.
Are you getting enough vitamin D?
Vitamin D is also great for supporting the normal function of our immune system. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight, and between April and September is when we get the most of it. Remember to wear sunscreen if you’re out and about in the garden or doing your daily exercise outdoors. It’s difficult to get enough of your daily recommended amount of vitamin D from food, but you can find small amounts in oily fish, red meat, egg yolks and mushrooms.
During the autumn and winter, the sun isn’t strong enough for the body to make vitamin D, unless you’re spending your winter in a hot climate (lucky you!). That’s why adults and children over five years of age are already advised to take a daily supplement of 10 micrograms (µg) of vitamin D during autumn and winter to keep levels topped up.
Consider vitamin A
Found in foods such as cheese, eggs, yoghurt and oily fish, vitamin A (also known as retinol) helps keep our immune systems healthy. It can help maintain the cells that line the inside and outside of your body and form an important first line of defence. You’ll find vitamin A in plenty of colourful green, red and yellow fruit and veg such as apricots, sweet potatoes, peppers and carrots.
Eating a balanced diet should provide you with the vitamins you need. But if you can’t get hold of food with essential nutrients during coronavirus isolation or restrictions, taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement may be a good idea if you feel you’re lacking vitamins from your diet.
If you’re finding it difficult to get your hands on enough fresh food or vegetables at the moment, tinned and frozen fruit and veg can also do the trick. Plus, a vitamin C supplement can help boost your daily intake if you feel you’re not getting your five-a-day. Vitamin C can’t be stored in the body, so it’s safe to take a supplement every day – but no more than 1,000 milligrams.
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All round support
With a blend of 23 essential vitamins and minerals to support your overall health and wellbeing, these tables include vitamin C and B12 to support a healthy immune system, vitamin A to support healthy vision, iron to reduce tiredness and fatigue, and zinc to support healthy cognitive function.
The power of a good night's sleep
It’s not just food that’s great for the immune system. Nope – being best friends with bedtime and getting enough shut-eye is another key way to help keep your immune system in tip-top condition. Not only does sleep reboot the body, but it reboots the mind, too.
From cutting back on caffeine to avoiding screens before bed, the NHS have great advice about how to get a solid night’s sleep. Check it out here.
W is for water
Hands up who forgets to fill up their water bottle more than once a day? Drinking plenty of the good stuff (to be clear, we’re still talking about water) keeps you hydrated and does wonders for your immune system, as it helps to remove toxins from the body. Try to keep to six to eight glasses of water each day. If you don’t like the taste of water, why not add a slice of lemon, lime or orange? (You’ll be pleased to know coffee and tea count, too.)
Do your daily exercise
Whether it’s a brisk walk, an online workout or a spot of gentle yoga, exercising regularly is not only great for your health and wellbeing, but it also helps maintain the way your immune system works, too.
From Couch to 5K to Active 10, the NHS have a whole range of tools, tips and special offers to help you move more every day. Check them out here.
Remember, if you’re heading outside for a walk or run, it’s important to try and keep your distance from other people.
Take care of yourself
It’s important to keep happiness levels up and stress levels down, especially if you’re working from home. Long-term stress may affect the ability of the immune system to fight off infection. Getting lost in doing what you love is a great way to focus your mind on something positive and personal to you. Whether it’s baking, sewing or painting, having something you’re passionate about can make it a whole lot easier to forget about what’s going on around us.
Wash your hands
Wash hands. Cover face. Make space. Now, more than ever, it’s really important that you wash your hands thoroughly to help stop the spread of COVID-19 – and remember not to touch your mouth, eyes and face with unwashed hands. When you do need to leave the house, keep a bottle of hand sanitiser with you.
And there you have it: the lowdown on helping to keep your immune system healthy and happy.