Now, more than ever, you need to pay attention to how well your immune system is functioning. We know the things we need to do in order to reduce our risk of getting sick. However, it usually takes a drastic change (such as a pandemic) to shift us into action.
To help move you along, I’m going to review the 5 best strategies you can utilize to boost your immune system (for a few more health habits to boost your results, you can download our free eBook on 7 Healthy Habits for optimal living). If you implement these strategies correctly, you’ll decrease your chances of getting sick by 10 fold.
But, before we jump into the 5 strategies, it’s important to get a better understanding of WHAT the immune system is. This way you can have more respect for WHY you need to take care of it in the first place (for those impatient souls who simply want to jump to the strategies, jump to the “The 5 Best Ways to Build a Robust Immune System” section below ).
Breaking Down the Immune System
The immune system is a complex set of subsystems. It’s so complex, in fact, that science is still finding parts of the immune system to this day. In his awesome, and gigantic, book, Boundless, Ben Greenfield breaks down these subsystems beautifully. So we don’t make things too complicated, let’s take each subsystem one at a time, starting with the most obvious (to the eye, at least):
#1) The skin
Yup, the skin is technically part of the immune system. As the largest organ in the human body, think of the skin as a barrier to the outside world. If that barrier is compromised, it becomes much easier for foreign invaders to enter.
#2) The Lymphatic System
You’ve referred to this system before if you’ve ever mentioned or heard something about a swollen lymph node. This system is made up of organs, nodes, vessels, and tissues. These parts shuttle lymph fluid around, helping rid the body of toxins, waste and unwanted debris.
#3) The Respiratory System
If you’ve ever breathed in your life, then you know that this system is imperative for your survival. The respiratory system, which includes the mouth, lungs, and air pathway, helps us to in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
Simply put, these are small white blood cells that seek out unwanted enemies and destroy them. Think of Lymphocytes as your body’s own Special Operations Navy Seal Team. They’re called into action when the body senses an external threat.
#5) The Gut
Likely the most overlooked subsystem of the whole, the gut harbors a plethora of disease-fighting bacteria and other organisms to make up your gut microbiome. It’s also likely that you’ve recently started to hear the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. This is important because, although it’s often overlooked, the gut contains up to 60% of the immune system!
Hopefully, that wasn’t too painful for you. I was trying to keep it simple and to the point. This information is important, though, so that you can start to piece together and respect your immune system for ALL of the functions it plays in the body.
So now that you have a more in-depth understanding of these different subsystems, let’s jump into the 5 strategies to help improve them. As you’ll see, each strategy will have a direct impact on one or more of these subsystems.
The 5 Best Ways to Build a Robust Immune System
#1) Improve Lymph Flow
As you can guess, this strategy is used to directly improve the lymphatic system. However, you’ll also be impacting your lymphocytes and respiratory as well. Improving lymph flow is important because, without proper flowage, the lymph system will get clogged up. When this happens, the body is not able to properly disperse its Special Operations Unit (lymphocytes) which may slow down its reaction to external invaders (AKA you may be able to fight disease effectively).
Unlike the cardiovascular system, which has the heart as a pump, the lymph system as no pump. This means that it requires manual stimulation to keep it moving. Think of an old well pump. If you want water from the well, you need to pump it up through the pipe. Otherwise, you’ll be standing there a long time hoping that The Force will push it up and out eventually.
Luckily, improving lymph flow is a relatively easy proposition. One way, for instance, is to stimulate the lymph system through jumping. Before you go thinking I want you to jump up and down all day, there is an easier and much more fun solution. Get yourself a small rebounder or trampoline and use it daily (yes, I’m suggesting you jump around like a child…GASP!). This is something I’ve incorporated over the last year, and it has not only improved my immunity but also transformed my energy.
If jumping on a trampoline isn’t your thing (no fun Sallie), you can also utilize massage. Manual massage is always great but usually not cost-effective. So buy yourself a foam roller and use it every day, as well. If you’re not sure how to utilize a foam roller to its fullest, check out this (old school) video.
Finally, staying HYDRATED is imperative for proper lymphatic flow. Without water (not Gatorade, or Vitamin Water, or Juice…but WATER), the lymphatic system will slow down and clog up. So, grab your gallon jug and get chugging!
#2) Reduce Stress Levels
We all know that it’s important to have less stress in our lives. However, you may not equate high stress to a higher risk of getting sick. This is why it’s important to bring your stress levels down and support your immune system function.
Reducing stress is going to help a number of the subsystems we’ve discussed, most notably the respiratory system and the gut. Yup. High levels of stress have a HUGE impact on your gut health. So, lowering your stress will improve your gut microbiome and overall immune system health.
One simple way to start to lower stress is to incorporate some sort of meditation or regular guided breathing practice. Meditation, of course, is optimal for overall mental and physical health improvement. However, it can also play a huge part in helping you to control your breath in stressful situations.
This is why I give the alternative of using a guided breathing practice, as well. The goal is to train yourself to be able to breathe as few breaths as possible and to fully exhale at the bottom of each breath. Without that full exhale, the body will accumulate unwanted gases (carbon dioxide, most notably). This build-up may cause other issues in the body over time.
To go along with your breathing practice, improving sleep quality will go a long way in helping you feel less stressed. Sleep quality has proven to be a higher predictor of good health than sleep quantity. And to start sleeping better, begin by putting down your phone AT LEAST 2 hours before bed.
I won’t go into great detail on this (check out THIS ARTICLE if you want more info on how light impacts your sleep), but the light from your phone causes you to have poor sleep. This is due to blue light reducing the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. So put that phone, laptop, tablet, and, yes, TV, in “OFF” mode, and pick up a good book (GASP!).
#3) Increase Gut Health
As you saw above, the gut makes up about 60% of the overall immune system. So keeping that bad boy in tune is imperative for lasting health. You can easily start to do this by incorporating more fermented foods into your diet.
As you may know, fermented foods contain probiotic bacteria that support the growth of a healthy microbiome. For instance, sauerkraut contains a bacteria called Lactobacillus paracasei. This bacteria, in particular, helps the gut produce a messenger that kills infection in the body. A good thing if you’re looking to stay healthy.
A few examples of quality fermented foods you can take advantage of include sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha, kefir, miso, and natto. As a fair warning, do not…I repeat DO NOT, overconsume these foods hoping to maximize your bacterial powers. As with anything on Earth, the poison is in the dose. If you over-consume, your body (more specifically your belly) will let you know about it. So start with tiny portions!
On the other end of probiotics are prebiotic foods. The difference between the 2 is that probiotics are the bacteria themselves, while prebiotics helps the gut grow and develop new bacteria. Prebiotic foods to incorporate include things like asparagus, raw garlic, raw leeks, underripe bananas, cooked onions, and artichoke.
It’s important to get a mixture of both probiotic and prebiotic foods into your diet. This will help optimize your gut health and improve your overall immune system function.
#4) Optimize Supplement Support
Before I start this section, there is one caveat. I get regular questions about supplements to help with muscle gain, weight loss, gut health, skincare…you name it. And I ALWAYS begin by asking one simple question: How is your nutrition? Therefore, as you read this section, remember that these recommendations should be SUPPLEMENTS to a high-quality nutrition plan.
Since we just finished talking about gut health, let’s look back at that topic quickly to see how we can maximize this area. As I mentioned, utilizing pro and prebiotics is important for gut health. And if you’re struggling to get an optimal amount of naturally containing foods in your diet, supplements are a great way to boost your pro and prebiotic intake.
Starting with probiotics, it’s important to look for broad-spectrum options. This means that they contain more than one strand of probiotic. It should AT LEAST contain a strand from the Lactobacillus family and the Bifidobacterium family. If you’re wondering, I recommend the brand Seeking Health.
Prebiotics are pretty cut and dry. You want to look for options that include oligosaccharides, fructosaccharides, inulin, and arabinosaccharides (a bunch of funny words, I know). Again, I recommend Bulletproofs Innerfuel, which we carry at Thriveology.
To go along with gut health supplements, there are 3 other nutrients I want to recommend while I’m at it. Those are Zinc, Vitamin C, and Quercetin. While Zinc and Vitamin C may not be a huge surprise to you, I want to spend most of this time on Quercetin.
Quercetin is a flavonoid antioxidant that is found in foods such as leafy greens, berries, and broccoli. This high-impact nutrient helps slow the aging process by lessening the oxidative stress on the body. It also helps improve the immune system response to outside stressors (AKA disease).
For optimal usage, a dose of about 500mg twice daily will help boost your immune function and improve your allergies. A great supplement I recommend, which we also carry at Thriveology, is Onnit’s Virutech, which includes Zinc, Vitamin C and Quercetin!
#5) MOVEMENT, MOVEMENT, MOVEMENT!
I know we’ve already talked about utilizing the rebounder to improve lymph flow. But here I want to talk specifically about 2 types of movement that will boost your immune system: Exercise and NEAT.
Getting regular exercise helps increase the function of the immune system by stressing it for short periods of time, then letting it recover so that it’s stronger. This is done by utilizing 45–60 minute sessions in which you push the body to work hard and become fatigued.
The type of exercise that you do may not be as important as simply exercising in general. However, weight training is certainly the most effective form of exercise you can take advantage of to improve your overall health and longevity.
If exercise is the purposeful stuff you do to improve your health, NEAT is the non-purposeful movement. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. As you can imagine, NEAT movement makes up a lot more of your energy than exercise. Considering we only exercise 3–5 hours a week, that leaves about 160 hours left to find other ways to move.
The simplest way to introduce more NEAT into your life is through a practice called Movement Hygiene. It’s simple: set a timer to go off every 25–30 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and do 5–10 reps of your favorite exercise. It could be pushups or body squats and jumping jacks. It doesn’t matter. Simply pick an exercise and do it for 5–10 reps!
I know this has been a LONG article. However, if you want to improve your health and longevity, immune function is an important factor to pay attention to. So implement these strategies over time. You’ll start to see a drastic increase in your energy, focus, productivity, and, of course, immunity to disease!