15 ways to boost your immunity
1 Step outside
It may be hot, particularly in the summer months, but spending time outdoors where you aren't inhaling filtered air or other people's germs will do your body the world of good. Fresh air, no matter how hot or humid it is, is a natural immune booster, and because every cell in our body needs a constant supply of oxygen, breathing air outdoors is like giving your system a premier class nutrient. Not only that, fresh air improves the brain's functioning and increases its production of serotonin - the feel-good hormone that makes us feel happy. And remember, getting plenty of sun will increase your vitamin D levels, boosting your immune system even more.
2 Colour code your diet
We all know that eating a healthy, balanced diet will do wonders for your wellbeing, but the secret to getting the nutrients you need to help your body fight disease is eating brightly coloured food. Dr Anees Fatima, family medicine specialist at Dubai City Hospital, says, "Dark and brightly coloured raw fruits and vegetables have unmatched immunity-boosting properties. Include plenty of lemons, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, berries and olives in your daily menu and eat plenty of proteins. Adding Omega 3 fats to your diet, cutting down on caffeine, chocolate and refined sugar will also have huge benefits."
3 Be still
As well as teaching the mind to relax, improving concentration and igniting your inner creativity, meditation can also produce antibodies against illness and lift your spirits. As a result, the process is considered a great way to beat stress. "When we are stressed, our bodies release certain biochemicals that suppress immune functionality," says Eileen Meehan, a hypnotherapist, Time-Line/NLP therapist, who runs meditation classes at the Synergy Integrated Medical Centre in Dubai.
"Essentially, we go into ‘fight or flight' mode where hormones such as adrenaline and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal glands, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing and impaired immune function," says Eileen. "Meditation elicits the opposite bodily reaction. It produces a state of relaxation in which your brain waves are lowered resulting in deep relaxation for the body, slower breathing, decreased blood pressure, lower heart rate and reduced cholesterol."
4 Sleep in the dark
It may sound obvious, but if you want to keep your immune system in tip-top shape then get some decent shut eye and turn off the lights. Your body only produces melatonin – a hormone that prevents certain diseases – at night, so if you don’t sleep enough or are exposed to any light, it decreases production and raises oestrogen levels. In turn, increasing the risk of developing breast cancer. Your immune organs – tonsils, sinus and lymph glands – also need sleep to recharge, repair and regenerate, so invest in a pair of blackout curtains and reap the benefits.
5 Tune in
According to Dr Fatima, listening to your favourite music is a great way to relax. “Music that soothes your soul can boost your immunity, but it must be music you love,” she says. Scientists in the United States have found that listening to songs that really touch your heart can stimulate the same feel-good parts of the brain that are activated by eating your favourite food or being around someone you love. And an even better way to enhance your defences is to make the music yourself – jamming with friends can greatly enhance natural killer-cell activity.
6 Stay upbeat
There's something to be said for looking on the bright side of life, because not only is positivity a mood booster, it's also good for your health. According to Dr Fatima, optimists tend to outlive pessimists by many years because their immunity is stronger. A study by the Mayo Clinic in the United States revealed that those who had a glass-half-full attitude in their youth tended to live 12 years longer than those whose glass was half-empty. And a recent study of law students at the University of Kentucky, which tracked changes in optimism and how this affected the students' immune systems, also backs this theory. As the students became more positive, their immune system improved and as they became less so, their immunity dipped.
7 Supplements - but not too many
There are a number of natural supplements that can offer your immune system a boost, particularly in Dubai's winter months when you are more susceptible to catching colds. Popular remedies such as Vitamin C, echinacea and garlic have been proven to reduce the length of time you suffer from a cold. And a basic daily multivitamin is recommended for the elderly who are often more deficient in vital nutrients. However, it's important not to overdo it. Supplements that claim to increase your immunity, such as protein and enzyme, or antioxidants, don't actually strengthen it, but can in fact weaken your immunity - especially if you are receiving all the nutrients you need in a healthy, balanced diet.
8 Exercise Your Brain
While spending hours at work poring over a long, confusing document, or planning a big event, or trying to remember your shopping list, or attempting a cryptic crossword can be mentally exhausting, these kinds of activities could have a very positive effect on your brain and your general health. Dr Fatima explains, "Certain kinds of thinking may boost immunity - research shows there is a connection between the immune system and the part of the brain that handles planning, memory, initiative, judgment and abstract thinking."
Despite the constant reminders, people simply don't drink enough water. Dehydration puts the body under strain and lowers your resistance to illness. By drinking plenty of water and avoiding diuretics such as coffee that rob your body of vitamins and minerals and leads to dehydration, you can make a quick and very direct change to your health. "To drink the right amount of water for your body, divide your body weight in pounds by two. This equals the number of ounces of water you should drink per day," advises Dr Fatima.
10 Get physical
We all know exercise is good for us, but it's not just about being able to run 10km in under an hour or looking good in your clothes. Evidence has shown that sedentary people don't have as strong an immune system as those who exercise. Working out increases energy levels and produces endorphins, which in turn increases your feeling of wellbeing, and combats stress. And of course a healthy, strong body is more equipped to fight disease.
But remember, while moderate exercise such as regular walking or light running will improve your health, overdoing it can depress the immune system. Prolonged endurance exercise such as competing in a marathon or triathlon, will actually increase the release of stress hormones, which can suppress the immune system's ability to function.
11 Stub it out
Quit smoking and your ability to fight infection will improve within 30 days. Why? Because the reason smokers are at greater risk of developing lung cancer and respiratory diseases is because smoking suppresses immune cells. And it’s not just your own cells you damage but your child’s as well. An Australian study revealed that a third of babies whose parents smoke at home, end up in hospital before their first birthday. So kick the habit for good.
12 Turn It Down
Polluting your system with incessant loud noise (music, office chatter, construction work) not only clouds your judgement but can cause a similar reaction to someone in shock or who is suffering from severe stress. "Any unwanted and intrusive sound can cause muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, constrict blood vessels and cause digestive upsets," says Dr Fatima.
Recent research found that women who work in a moderately noisy office produce more adrenaline than those who work in quiet environments, raising their risk of developing heart disease. And, long-term chronic exposure can have damaging effects on your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and immune system. Dr Fatima adds, "If you can't always control the volume in your surroundings - take control and wear earplugs."
13 Have a laugh
They say laughter is the best medicine and health experts definitely agree with that notion. While emotions such as anger, anxiety and grief can be damaging to your health and trigger illness, having a really good laugh can do you the world of good. "Socialising and laughing with friends increases antibodies and natural killer-cell activity," says Dr Fatima. A good chuckle can also increase circulation, stimulate digestion, lower blood pressure and reduce muscle tension - all great ways to improve your immunity even more.
14 Take a day off
While a little stress is a good motivator, too much can have the opposite effect and lead to anxiety and exhaustion. Find ways to handle stress and talk to your employers about finding a better work-life balance to reduce the pressure of trying to juggle everything. There's also nothing more satisfying, and often well-deserved, than taking an unexpected holiday. "Make time for yourself - to relax, and be happy. Take a ‘mental health day' every few months to relieve the stress and pressure of everyday life," advises Dr Fatima.
15 Breathe deeply
Slow deep breathing will give your system a powerful boost as it oxygenates the body, helping your defences to eliminate illness. Oxygen is important for your immunity because it is the fuel source for killer-cells and T-cells, which both ward off illness. The process also stimulates your lymph system, which delivers immune cells to their needed place.