During times of coughs, colds, flus and viruses, it can be important to know simple measures you can take to boost your own bodies defence and immune system.
Our immune system is a collection of structures and processes within the body to protect us against disease and any other potentially damaging foreign bodies. When functioning well, our immune system identifies threats (bacteria, parasites), distinguishes them from the body’s own healthy tissue and helps co-ordinate the body systems to combat illnesses.
There are several ways we can ensure we have a healthy functioning immune system. Here are our favourites:
Sleep deprivation has a massive influence on the effectiveness of our immune system. Sleep deprived people can have a delayed adaptive immune response (1). During solid sleep, critical regulatory processes take place and these include suppression of the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system, with their respective hormones cortisol and adrenaline/noradrenaline – (the “stress hormones”) (2). If people are not getting enough sleep, their defensive immune mechanisms are reduced and their stress hormones are elevated, making them more vulnerable to viruses. Tips to improve your sleep health include:
- Exercise during the day and limit caffeine after lunch
- Ensure a regular bed and waking time
- Block out all noise and as much light as possible
- Reserve your bedroom area for sleep and intimate time with your partner. Avoid using your bedroom area as a work space with laptops or screens
- Avoid using laptops, watching TVs and devices an hour before bed
- Relax the belly and take ten slow long exhalations as you turn out your lights
Chronic stress suppresses the immune response of the body by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with the T-cells (a specific white blood cell) ability to reproduce and receive signals from the body. Elevated cortisol can also reduce antibodies that normally line the gut and respiratory tract, which are our first line of defence against incoming pathogens. Simple tips to improve your stress levels include:
- Exercise- simply elevating your heart rate with a group of friends doing something you enjoy (walking, cycling, dancing) are all good ways to manage stress.
- Spend some time in nature each day, preferably with some sunlight.
- Reduce fear and manage anxiety levels with mindfulness meditation techniques- learn more here!
- Time out and time in- if you spend each day rushing frantically with a long ‘to do’ list- it does not give your nervous system the chance to put on the brakes and simply refuel! Allowing short ‘time out’ moments means your sympathetic nervous system (your accelerator) can rest and your parasympathetic nervous system (your brake) can do the important job of allowing rest, digestion and repair services to the body. ‘Time out’ could simply mean a ten-min nap, reading a book, lying in the grass watching the clouds, enjoying some music or slow deep breaths. Read more about stress here!
- Watch the breath- when we are stressed we tend to breath high into the neck and shoulders and limit the natural excursion of the diaphragm. Simply observing the breath, relaxing the belly and lengthening the exhalation can help. Watch more here.
- Need help managing your stress? Read more here
Staying hydrated, reducing your sugar intake (that includes sweets and alcohol) and ensuring your diet has plenty of vitamins/minerals (especially C, D and zinc) from fresh vegetables and fruit- are all easy methods to improve your diet for a healthy body! Read more here about healthy diet options here.
Reduce alcohol intake and stop smoking
These habits will not help your health in a positive way! These habits not only increase the risk of cancer but also impairs the immune system.
The benefits of exercise on our heart, lungs, brain, immune system, stress levels, bone and joint health have been well documented for decades, yet so many of us are reluctant just to take the first step! The simple habit of 15 mins morning and afternoon to elevate your heart rate can be a simple small step in the right direction. This ensures circulation and also a change in your breathing pattern that boosts your lungs and nervous system. Now is the most important time you have to start a health exercise habit!
Simple hygiene habits of washing your hands often and for 20 seconds with soap, covering your mouth if you cough or sneeze, limiting contact with those who are sick (or if you are sick- ensuring you stay home to recover and prevent spread of infection), cleaning high touch surfaces with disinfectant are all simple smart ways to keep yourself and the community healthy! Utilising natural anti-bacterial products such as diffusing essential lemon oil can also ensure your environment remains clear, clean and healthy.
There is no better time than NOW to start valuing your health and the health of your family. Simple healthy habits start by taking the first step.
The Yoga Physio is powered by Nichole Hamilton and her physiotherapy practice Synergy Physio. To learn more about her physiotherapy practice and her team at Synergy Physio click here
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- Bryant PA, Trinder J, Curtis N: Sick and tired: Does sleep have a vital role in the immune system?. Nat Rev Immunol. 2004, 4 (6): 457-67.
- Lange T, Dimitrov S, Born J: Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010, 1193 (1): 48-59.