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Strengthen your body's defenses

Tips for a healthy immune system

Think of your body like a castle, complete with its own army — your immune system — to defend it.

"When germs try to invade your body, your immune system recognizes them as foreign and launches a defense," says Virginia Nagy, M.D., a family medicine physician at Lake Regional Clinic – Eldon. "We call it an 'immune system' because several areas work together."

First, your skin tries to prevent germs from getting inside your body. Your mucous membranes try to trap and fight off the germs. And your body makes white blood cells to repel the invaders.

After the skirmish, your immune system remembers the foreign substance. If it ever attacks again, your immune system will remember how it fought back the first time — even if it didn't completely succeed.

"This 'memory' helps protect you from getting sick again," says Dr. Nagy. "You have immunity."

Keep a strong immune system

It's important to help keep your immune system healthy so it can continue to fight off invaders. Dr. Nagy shares several tips for strengthening your body's defenses.

Practice good hygiene

Wash your hands often to prevent the spread of germs. Wash produce before eating it, and be careful when preparing meat to clean up contaminated cooking surfaces.

Manage stress

Stress can weaken your immune system. Find ways to manage stress, such as practicing deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga or listening to music.

Make healthy sleep a priority

Adults should try to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Children need as much as 8 to 14 hours of sleep, depending on their age.

Get moving

Exercise can help your body produce immune cells that fight off disease. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Get vaccinated

Talk to your primary care provider about which vaccines you need. Almost everyone needs to be vaccinated — and boosted — for COVID-19. Depending on your age and medical history, you also may need a shingles shot, a pneumonia vaccine or a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine.

Eat well

Go for foods that contain the following nutrients, which help support the immune system:

  • Protein. It's found in both animal- and plant-based foods such as fish, beef, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils, and nuts and seeds.
  • Vitamin A. It is found in sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach and fortified foods.
  • Vitamin C. Citrus fruits, tomato juice and food fortified with vitamin C are all good sources.
  • Vitamin E. You'll find this vitamin in fortified cereals, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils and peanut butter.
  • Zinc. Good sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, whole-grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
  • Probiotics. These good bacteria are present in cultured dairy products, like yogurt, and in fermented foods, like kimchi.

It's important to help keep your immune system healthy so it can continue to fight off invaders.

Categories: Wellness

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