Boost your immune system to protect yourself from illnesses.

When any illness is making the rounds, it’s a good idea to do what you can to give your immune system all of the vitamins and nutrients it needs to do its job; you may even want to do what you can to give it a boost! This will help ensure you stay healthy and will help your body quickly kick any illnesses you do get with minimal symptoms. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to do this any time of the year. Here are 5 ways you can give your immune system a helping hand—and a few ideas on how to have fun while you do it!

1. Make a habit of exercising daily.

Exercise is famous for its many physical and mental health benefits, but scientists are still discovering more and more benefits regular exercise can provide, including boosting your immune function. Scientists believe it does this in several ways, such as causing white blood cells to circulate through your bloodstream faster; this may allow them to detect invading bacteria and viruses sooner. Exercising also raises your body temperature for a short period of time, which may kill bacteria—similar to how a fever helps you fight infection—and lower the level of stress hormones in your blood while promoting endorphins, which are proven to help you fight illnesses better.

2. Give your body healthy fuel.

Healthy immune function requires certain levels of vitamins and minerals, so adjust your diet to ensure you’re getting enough of these nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins that are essential to your immune function, including vitamins C and D. You can get vitamin C through citrus fruits or bell peppers, while yogurt is a good source of vitamin D and helpful gut bacteria that aid your immune system. Additionally, reducing long-term inflammation is essential for your overall and immune health, so avoid starchy or fatty foods that increase inflammation, like white bread, French fries, and burgers. Instead, eat foods that decrease inflammation, like tomatoes, nuts, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, and leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, and kale.

What you drink can also have an effect on your immune health; the different varieties of tea, from white to black or herbal, contain antioxidants and often have anti-inflammatory properties, meaning they’re a good—and delicious—way to boost your immune system. Ginger and elderberry are particularly good at fighting illnesses, so drinking teas with these ingredients may even help you get over illnesses more quickly. Sweetening your tea with honey, which also contains antioxidants, can give your tea a little extra illness-fighting strength.

3. Focus on self-care and reducing your stress levels.

Your stress levels have a direct and very real impact on your immune system because stress hormones suppress the effectiveness of your immune response; if you’re stressed for a short period of time, this isn’t a big deal, but chronic stress or anxiety can leave your immune system vulnerable. To combat this, focus on self-care and other methods of reducing your stress levels, such as journaling, meditation, soaking in the bathtub, or yoga. Yoga pairs the stress-fighting benefits of exercise with the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, so it’s a great mental health tool. You may need to experiment with a few different stress-fighting methods, but once you find a method that works for you, you’ll likely feel better mentally and physically.

4. Take care of your oral health

Although it’s easy to think of your oral and overall health as completely separate, your mouth is just as much a part of your body as your stomach or kidneys, so it does have an impact on your overall health. Periodontitis, for example, allows bacteria into the bloodstream, which can cause chronic, widespread inflammation that weakens your immune system and causes a wide range of long-term health issues if left untreated.

There’s even evidence that the bacteria responsible for periodontitis targets immune cells, disarming them by making them unable to kill bacteria while leaving immune cells’ ability to cause inflammation untouched. Thankfully, maintaining your oral health through a great oral hygiene routine—brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day, using mouthwash and flossing once a day, and visiting Dr. Wohlers every six months for an evaluation—can prevent this, keeping you healthy and allowing your immune system to do its job.

5. Keep your home sanitized and clean.

Limiting the number of germs you come in contact with is a good way to protect yourself from infection—and that means cleaning and sanitizing your home regularly. When an illness like the flu or COVID-19 is spreading through your community, work, or your kids’ school, it’s wise to sanitize common-use objects and surfaces daily. This might sound like a lot, but a family of people each touching the same object dozens of times a day translates to a lot of germs! As a result, it’s best to wipe down items like counters, tables, light switches, doorknobs, and TV remotes, even if they don’t look dirty. You can even combine some of these tips to create an illness-preventing triple threat by having a cleaning party to energetic music; dancing and scrubbing to the music will cheer you up and get your heart pumping for a little exercise—all while you kill viruses and bacteria to make your home cleaner and safer for your family!

Your immune system is your body’s built-in defense against illnesses, but it needs regular care to do its job well. Although building healthy habits takes discipline at first, most of these habits are easy to implement; providing your body with the right nutrients and giving it a boost through a healthy lifestyle is worth it, however, as you’ll likely feel healthier and more energetic year-round.