Immunity – in a COVID-19 world, it’s the hot topic on many people’s lips. How to improve it, what to eat to boost it and what supplements will help strengthen it. All too often we’re told it’s our diet that makes the biggest amount of difference when it comes to our immunity, but there is a lot more to it than just getting your 5-a-day. A well-functioning immune system is born from a state of balance in mind, body and nutrition.
How does the immune system work?
“Virus and bacteria are still a part of our environment, it is just we have to learn how to relate to them so they don’t affect us any more. This is what our bodies have been designed to do. Our body is forced to learn how to relate to everything foreign that it takes in. All systems in our body including gastrointestinal, circulatory, immune and lymphatic systems need to function well for this process to occur.” Chinese acupuncturist Brigitte Lalor explains. “If the whole body is functioning efficiently we have a strong immune system.”
Brigitte works in the field of Chinese medicine, which takes a holistic view of the body, “Inspecting the exterior to examine the interior”. Unlike traditional medicine, it looks at the derivatives of pain and illness – seeking to find the underlying malfunction rather than just treat acute symptoms. The immune system plays a major role in this, for example, you might often get coughs, colds or bugs and always just use cold and flu tablets to keep them at bay. The more important issue to look at here would be the immune system – why is it not functioning as it should and what elements of your lifestyle might be damaging it? Fixing the immune system and surrounding lifestyle choices ensures a longer term solution, potentially preventing, not just one instance of a cold but a multitude of other illnesses in the future.
This is where the ‘holistic’ view of your body and health comes in. Immunity can be affected by a whole range of factors; stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, sedentary lifestyles, over-exercising and even grief. To help your immune system, it’s about being honest with yourself about what aspects of your lifestyle might need changing in order to restore balance in your body.
How can I make changes to benefit my immune system?
We’re going to cover just some things to think about when it comes to making changes. But of course, please speak to a doctor or health professional if you are having symptoms of any type of illness or if you’re thinking of making drastic changes.
This is one of the biggest and least talked about contributors to a weakened immune system. When we are stressed, our body produces the hormone corticosteroid. This hormone suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system, reducing its ability to fight off antigens. In times like this, where stress is heightened for many of us by the uncertainty of COVID-19 it’s really important to take time to actively relax. By that, we mean taking steps to reduce your screen time, spend time in nature and do whatever activities help you to slow down. It might be taking a walk, knitting, dancing, yoga or meditation. Although sweating it out might be one of your key ways of releasing stress, consider swapping one or two HIIT or endurance exercise sessions with a more gentle form of exercise. Also, share your stress with others. Whether it’s on a loved one or over a video call with a friend – having an open dialogue about your stress levels is really important. However, seeking professional advice is also an important step. Your GP will be able to advise you on the best route for you to help you manage stress or even refer you to the Better Access program. This fantastic program will give you access to 10 free sessions with a relevant psychological specialist.
- Strengthen your weaknesses
“To have good health, look at where your body is struggling or not functioning well and take action to improve those areas.”, says Brigitte “For example, symptoms of bloating after eating and food moving really slowly through the body may impact the production of new healthy cells. Symptoms of laboured breathing and shortness of breath will diminish energy levels, as cells need oxygen to convert glucose into energy. If we strengthen the body’s weakness, we are supporting the body to function more efficiently and effectively.” So, this means examining your body and its functions -– if you do have symptoms, what does that point towards?. Maybe you’ve put up with bloating but never really done anything to change it – gut issues could be a key part of why your immune system isn’t functioning optimally. Do your research – speak to medical professionals and look to other types of healing such as Chinese medicine, daily Tai Chi/Qi Gong, breath-work, and meditation to find what works for you. If you want to find out more about Brigitte and her practice, take a look here.
- Mindful movement
As we mentioned before, movement plays a huge role in our overall stress levels and therefore our immunity. However, this extends out from just the forms of exercise we engage in on a daily basis. Being sedentary throughout the day without much movement except from your allotted exercise time can negate many of the benefits exercise gives us when it comes to our overall health. At the Evidence-Based Integrated Healthcare symposium hosted by RMIT University, Professor Neville Owen, Head of the Behavioural and Generational Change Program at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, told guests that, “excessive sitting time – whether in front of a television or at the desk – was emerging as a new risk factor for chronic disease.” So what can you do? It’s pretty simple – make sure you take breaks from your work throughout the day. Setting a timer for hourly breaks is a great way to get into the habit of stretching your legs throughout your day. Or, if you struggle with self motivation, our 28 Days of Wellness program includes bitesize forms of movement that are designed to split up a day of sitting still.
- The old favourite – nutrition
Finally, a quick dip into nutrition. Of course, this does have a role to play but it’s not easily fixed by just gulping down some supplements or an immunity juice. In the coming weeks, you’ll find more info on specific vitamins, spices, food groups and recipes that can help you boost your immune system. But, if you’re looking for a more comprehensive range of recipes, you can purchase our immunity collection which is full of flavourful recipes, drinks and more top tips on how to boost your immunity system.