Health is one of those things you tend to take for granted until something threatens it. And having a thriving, active immune system is your best bet when it comes to protecting your precious health. Here are a few ways to keep that system strong, according to Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publishing.
1. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
Most of us aren't eating enough, which is problematic beyond our collective lack of fiber. The nutrients and micronutrients in fruits and vegetables do wonders for your body and mind, including your immune system.
If you're like a lot of people, it's not that you don't like fruits and veggies -- it's that you lack easy access. Try picking up one of those big bags of oranges to leave at your desk, or if you're in leadership, have the office manager keep the office kitchen stocked with apples and oranges. Even one more piece of fruit a day will help.
2. Get enough sleep
When it comes to your immune system, Harvard scientists say, "Your first line of defense is to choose a healthy lifestyle." That includes getting sufficient shut-eye. When you don't sleep enough, you're run down, and far more likely to succumb to those germs you picked up at the water cooler.
If you're one of millions of those who have trouble falling asleep, you can explore alternative options to sleeping pills. Genius Sleep Aid is a natural supplement I use (especially when switching timezones); you take it 30 minutes before you want to get very, very sleepy. It works. Listening to this song can also help--it was designed in partnership with sound scientists to help your body and mind relax in preparation for restful sleep.
3. Don't smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation
Everyone knows cigarettes are bad for you. But drinking can be worse, depending on how you do it. The occasional glass of wine isn't dangerous (arguably good for you), but drinking to excess is. Hangovers aren't just uncomfortable; they're an indication that your liver is working overtime. And while researchers aren't sure why, alcohol diminishes your body's T-cell count, along with B cells (ones that make antibodies to fight bacteria, among other things).
Bottom line: if you're going to drink, take it easy. Don't drink a lot fast, and don't binge drink.
4. Work out on a regular basis
There are a multitude of benefits of exercise, including boosting your mood and keeping your brain supple. It's also part of a healthy, functioning immune system.
Again, make this easy on yourself. You don't have to go to the gym every day; you just need to move your body daily. If you can take the stairs up to work, do so, and do it again when you come back from lunch. Park further away at the grocery store so you get more of a walk in. Those small activities add up.
5. Take certain supplements, if it's right for you
Harvard scientists warn against bogus immune-boosting supplements. However, they also state that in some cases, it's a good idea to supplement your diet: "If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs ... taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may bring other health benefits, beyond any possibly beneficial effects on the immune system."
6. Maintain a healthy weight
Again, we all know we need to do this. But when you're faced with the metric ton of Halloween candy coming up in about a month, it can be a challenge (it's hard to be strong in the face of Butterfinger).
A few hacks can help. Research backs the health and weight loss effects of green tea consumption, since it both boosts your metabolism and has loads of antioxidants. If you want to give yourself a weight loss boost, ditch your morning coffee (especially if it's full of milk and sugar) and have green tea instead. Or replace your afternoon java with green tea.
7. Minimize stress
According to the Harvard scientists, "A wide variety of maladies, including stomach upset, hives, and even heart disease, are linked to the effects of emotional stress."
No kidding. Anyone who has had serious financial concerns, has gone through a bad breakup, or suffered the loss of someone they loved can attest to the tremendous impact of emotional stress.
Meditation is a good way to even out your emotional landscape; as your body and mind relax with a daily practice, it can help when stressful times do come up. Apps like Calm and Headspace make it easy to start a 10-15 minute a day meditation practice.
Depending on which state you live in, another effective way to minimize stress and manage a number of health conditions (including anxiety) is medical marijuana. The sweep of legalization around the country means options are getting better and better when it comes to safe, controlled ways of gaining the medical benefits. Idrasil, for example, is the first standardized form of medical cannabis. Its consistent formula (available in pill form, rather than needing to smoke/vape or take edibles) gives both physicians and you the chance to prescribe or take a measurable dosage. You can even get it covered by insurance, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield.
As autumn takes hold and temperatures drop, it becomes even more important to take care of your body and give your immune system every advantage possible.
Stay healthy, my friends.