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3 keys to building a strong immune system

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Dec 2, 2015

Winter is approaching fast and that means sharing close quarters with people and their germs, putting our immune systems at risk. Your immune system is your body’s own personal department of defense, armed and ready to fight off any foreign substance wanting to cause you harm. But if it’s not fully functioning, you become more vulnerable to disease-causing microorganisms that can make you sick.

There are three keys to maintaining a healthy immune system:

  1. Exercise
  2. Rest
  3. Good nutrition

Let’s look at how you can make the most of these key elements to enhance your immune system’s ability keeping you as healthy as possible this winter.

  • Exercise – The weather may be cold and frightful where you live, but that is no excuse for forgoing exercise. Now, more than ever, you need to make exercise a priority.  Physical activity may help flush out bacteria from the lungs and airways reducing your chance of catching a cold or the flu.  It also improves circulation along with causing a brief rise in body temperature which may help prevent bacteria from growing.  In addition, exercise is a great stress-reliever and can reduce the release of stress-related hormones.  Have you ever noticed when you’re under a lot of stress, you tend to become sick more easily?  At least 30 minutes of exercise for at least 3 or more days a week should be your goal.
  • Rest – If you’re staying up late, having trouble sleeping or pulling all-nighters, your immune system will suffer. Sleep deprivation lowers immune system functioning making you more prone to infections and decreasing your body’s ability to fight off colds or other illnesses. Fighting off more serious conditions can also suffer if you’re sleep deprived.  The more you lack sleep, the higher your levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) which is a marker of inflammation which may play a role in heart disease.  Six to seven hours of sleep each night is ideal and should be a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle.  Read up on how to get a good night’s sleep.
  • Good nutrition – There are certain nutrients helping to boost your immune system to its optimal best:

*Vitamin C – This antioxidant protects you from infections by stimulating the formation of antibodies improving your immune functioning.  Stock up on berries, broccoli, oranges, grapefruit, bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

*Vitamin E – Another antioxidant helping neutralize free radicals.  Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, broccoli, peanut butter, spinach, and fortified cereal.

*Protein – Protein forms the immune system molecules fighting disease by making antibodies.  Without enough protein, a person becomes less resistant to infectious diseases due to a reduction in antibodies.  Include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, nuts and seeds.

*Vitamin A – Once called the “anti-infective vitamin”, a deficiency of vitamin A is associated with impaired immunity and increased risk of infectious disease.  Excellent food sources are carrots, kale, spinach, sweet potatoes, eggs, and apricots.

*Zinc – This mineral enhances your immune system by healing wounds and keeps the immune cells functioning as they should.  Zinc is abundant in poultry, lean meat, beans, nuts, fish, whole grains and dairy products.

*Selenium – This trace mineral prevents oxidative damage to lipids and decreases damage to cell membranes.  Good food sources are fish, organ meats like liver, also red meat, poultry and eggs.

In conclusion

When you practice the three keys to keeping your immune system healthy, you will maximize your ability to weather this winter with minimal illnesses.  And being healthy feels so much better than being sick.





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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.