5 Ways to Strengthen the Body’s Immune System

woman sitting on the couch sick with the flu

Keeping the body and mind healthy and strong will better prepare the workforce for Michigan’s colder months. Strengthening the immune system can reduce risk of becoming ill, resulting in a healthy, engaged, and productive fall and winter. Below are preventative strategies to strengthen they body’s immune system.

What is the immune system? 

First, the immune system is made up of organs, cells, and protein that work together to protect the human body from foreign bodies such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine 

Common illnesses that circulate during the fall and winter 

 Each year, 5 to 20 percent of Americans get the flu, 200,000 of those needing to be hospitalized. However, flu viruses aren’t the only threat to our immune system during Michigan’s colder months. Even more become sick with the common cold or other illnessesCommon illnesses include: 

    • Allergies 
    • Sore throat 
    • Norovirus 
    • Ear infections 
    • Bronchitis
    • Arthritis 
    • Cold-induced asthma 
    • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 

How do illnesses affect the workplace? 

From flu-related cases alone, a staggering 70 million workdays are missed each year. This results in roughly $10.4 billion spent on doctor’s visits, medication, and in extreme cases, hospitalization. Employers have the opportunity to help keep their workforce healthy and prevent illness through education, resources, and support. Below are strategies for strengthening the body’s immune system. 

Eat nutritious foods: Quality, nutrient-dense foods provide the mind and body with clean energy to help perform daily tasks. The food you consume also plays an important role in strengthening and supporting a healthy immune system, according to Henry Ford Health System. Foods that support healthy immune function include: 

    • Red bell peppers: High in vitamin C. Other foods high in vitamin C include strawberries, kiwi, and broccoli.  
    • Sweet potatoes: The beta carotene found in sweet potatoes is converted into vitamin A which is important for a healthy immune system.  
    • Water: Staying properly hydrated helps our kidneys and liver filter out toxins.  
    • Nuts and seeds: Contain high levels of vitamin E, an effective disease-fighting nutrient.  
    • Greek yogurt: Contains probiotics, good bacteria that support healthy gut function.  

When it comes to improving and maintaining a healthy immune system, the foods we keep out of our bodies are just as important as the ones we put in, explains Henry Ford Health System. Foods that weaken the immune system include sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. These are okay in moderation, but for optimal health, it is recommended to monitor how much and how often you consume them.  

Exercise regularlyExperts aren’t exactly sure how exercise increases immunity to certain illnesses, but there is evidence to support a connection between the two, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bacteria may be flushed out of the lungs during regular physical activity, reducing one’s chances of getting sick. In addition, antibodies and white blood cells circulate the body more due to regular exercise, detecting illness faster. Moderate forms of regular exercise include: 

    • Bike rides a few times per week. 
    • Daily walks in the evening. 
    • Weekly fitness classes or workouts at the gym. 

Get enough sleepLack of sleep weakens the immune system, according to Mayo Clinic. Individuals who do not get enough quality sleep are more likely to get sick than those who do. In addition, sleep has an impact on how quickly an individual recovers if they do get sick. For achieving a full night’s rest, 

    • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day. 
    • Get plenty of sunlight during the day. This can help you fall asleep easier when it’s dark outside 
    • Drink caffeine in the morning, limit sugary foods, and avoid large meals right before bed.  
    • Exercise regularly.  

Manage stressScientists are investigating the relationship between stress and the body’s immune systemWhen individuals are stressed, their immune system’s ability to fight off viruses is reduced, leaving them more susceptible to illness. In addition, lack of social support and feelings of loneliness can weaken immunity, according to a study from Carnegie Mellon University’s Laboratory for the Study of Stress, Immunity and DiseaseTo manage stress and strengthen the body’s immune system,  

    • Practice mindfulness throughout the day. 
    • Stay digitally connected with loved ones. 
    • Develop resilience 
    • Set healthy boundaries between work and personal life.  

Get a flu shot  

An annual flu shot is the easiest way to protect yourself and those around you from getting sick. With a flu shot, people who are young and healthy can help protect people in high-risk groups through “herd immunity.” When a large portion of a population (or herd) is immune to a disease, it becomes difficult for the disease to spread, according to Mayo Clinic. If enough people get vaccinated, the entire community is protected, not just those who got a flu shot. Talk with your insurance provider about flu vaccine options. Then, use the Vaccine Finder Tool to find the most convenient location in your area.  

Placing effort on keeping the immune system strong will help prevent illness this fall and winterEncourage your team to implement these strategies into their lifestyle to maintain a healthy and productive workforce.