How To Optimise Immune Function This Winter
We all accept that we’re likely to pick up a seasonal bug, but we still all feel a little betrayed by our body when it happens. Did you know that resistance training is linked to improved immune function? As is the diet we choose to eat.
We wanted to share our top tips for optimising immune function this winter, but before we look at how to support its function, let’s take a look at how it works in a little more detail.
What is the immune system?
The purpose of the immune system is to defend itself and keep things like bacteria, viruses, and fungi out of the body and then destroy any if they happen to get in.
To do this, it has major lines of defence. We can think of it like our own army. The immune system is trained to recognise its own cells as self and leave them to do their jobs. It is trained to recognise anything that isn’t self and attack it.
When it works, it works brilliantly, and we survive. When the army is running on empty, things start to go rogue.
So how do we give the army what it needs again?
Sleep provides essential support to the immune system. Getting enough hours of high-quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune defence. There is increasing data that suggests adequate sleep is associated with less severe allergic reactions.
In contrast, serious sleeping problems like insomnia, sleep apnea, and circadian rhythm disruption, can interfere with the healthy functioning of the immune system.
A recent review demonstrated that resistance training has beneficial effects on several aspects of immune cell function. Researchers concluded that regular resistance training was associated with:
- Improved immune function,
- Reduced inflammation,
- Reduced risk of infection.
There are a number of mechanisms by which this occurs, but the take home? Regular physical exercise should be included in your routine if you want to optimise your immune health.
Check out our range of programmes to get started!
Your immune cells have a job to do and to do that job, they need certain compounds. You can get these compounds largely from your diet.
It’s important to prioritise wholefoods and limit ultra-processed wherever possible. These are some of our favourite immune supporting foods:
Red bell peppers contain almost three times the amount of Vitamin C that an Orange does!
Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting how immune cells work. Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells which help protect the body against infection.
Another one rich in Vitamin C, it is also packed full of antioxidants like beta carotene. Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body but beta carotene, like all carotenoids is an antioxidant, which protects the body from free radicals. Free radicals are produced by immune cells whilst fighting off invading germs, and these free radicals can then damage healthy cells leading to inflammation, so a diet rich in antioxidants could help mitigate the damage that any seasonal bug causes.
Many types of shellfish are packed full of zinc, and this is a particular powerhouse when it comes to immune function.
Zinc helps immune cells figure out the role they are going to play in fighting off invading bugs. Shellfish includes both crustaceans like shrimp, crab or lobster and molluscs like clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops.
Mushrooms contain beta-glucans which can help the body mount an effective response against viruses and bacteria.
Vitamin D is also found in mushrooms which again promotes a healthy immune response to threats. Keep your mushrooms on the windowsill to increase their Vitamin D content even more.
Leafy green vegetables are known for their B vitamin content. B vitamins are called upon when we are converting what we eat to energy and when we are busy fighting off invading viruses, our energy levels drop. The more we ask the body to do, the more supplies it needs, so fill up on those leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, rocket, watercress, beet tops and cabbage!
Garlic contains sulphur-containing compounds like allicin. It has been used for centuries to help fight off infections. Garlic also functions as a prebiotic which can support the development of a healthy microbiome in the gut – which ultimately has a direct line of communication to how well the immune system functions.
We may not be able to escape that seasonal bug, but we can give our immune army the best shot at fighting it off. It’s important to be proactive with immune health, rather than reactive. Prioritise sleep, get moving and opt for nutrient-dense wholefoods in your diet.
Thanks for reading,