How can I strengthen my immune system against infections?
In this course, you will learn how the “army” in your body, your immune system, fights many threats from infections to cancer. You’ll learn how you can train it to be stronger and smarter.
Let’s learn with Dave. When he first heard there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in his city, he wasn’t worried. At 41, he is still young and healthy. He felt invincible.
But Dave started hearing about some people his age becoming very sick. A friend of his had a fever last week and is now in the hospital because of COVID-19, on a ventilator.
Dave reads online that sometimes the immune system, which monitors and attacks invaders in the body, overreacts to the coronavirus. This can cause life-threatening inflammation and lung damage.
Dave starts to wonder whether his immune system is prepared to deal with this new threat. He decides to call his friend who works as an immunologist at a medical center.
Talking with his friend, Dave learns things he never knew about his immune system, like that he can improve it!
Continue to learn more with Dave.
We all have innate and adaptive parts of our immune system. They form a powerful and smart army made up of hundreds of types of proteins and cells, the working units of our tissues and organs.
Dave’s innate immune system is his first line of defense against coronavirus. He has natural killer cells that seek and destroy things that look dangerous, like viruses.
Dave’s immune system should watch at all times for things that could be dangerous. To do this, it has to know the difference between truly dangerous things and weird-looking but harmless things.
Dave learns that his body (especially his gut!) is teeming with bacteria and viruses that are good for him! His immune system needs to know these from the “bad guy” coronavirus.
Dave has T-cells that help his immune system first find and test cells that look dangerous, then destroy cells that are infected. T-cells act as the control center of the immune system.
Dave’s immune system attacks and eliminates threats. But it needs to be precise and react just the right amount. If it underreacts or overreacts, Dave could get very sick.
Dave asks his friend, “Is there anything I can do to help my immune system identify threats and react just the right amount?” The answer is “Yes - take care of your whole body!”
Dave’s friend explains that nearly every organ in his body, from his brain to his heart to his gut, participates in his immune system’s job of finding, attacking and eliminating threats.
Whenever Dave does things that improve his heart health (like exercise) or his brain health (like sleeping), he is also helping his immune system fight smarter and stronger!
On the other hand, things that are bad for Dave’s heart, brain or gut are also bad for his immune system. One of these things is inflammation. It can distract and tire out the immune system.
Learning about how his immune system works motivates Dave to live healthier in the months to come. He gets his body ready to fight the coronavirus without overreacting. You can do this, too!
Dave has been trying to lose weight and exercise more, but it’s not easy. He often works late and grabs fast food - often meat and bread. He often stresses before bed and sleeps too little.
Dave’s lifestyle is creating inflammation in his body, wearing down his immune system and putting him at greater risk of infection. This also makes his immune system more likely to overreact.
Following his friend’s advice, Dave starts to make small but consistent lifestyle changes. He focuses on getting daily exercise, sleeping and relaxing more, and eating fresh foods.
Any amount of heart-pumping activity per day can make natural killer cells and other immune cells stronger. Dave starts walking briskly for 30 minutes daily. Great training for his immune system!
Dave was surprised to learn that people who sleep less than 6 hours per night are more prone to infections and recover more slowly from the common cold (another type of coronavirus).
Getting adequate sleep is a strong driver of immune health. Lack of restful sleep, especially getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night, is a driver of inflammation.
Dave starts trying to keep a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule. He limits alcohol and caffeine in the evenings and he sets a limit on his “screen time” before bed.
Dave also learned from his friend that a healthier diet could help lower levels of inflammation in his body and strengthen his immune system.
Doctors recommend a mediterranean diet consisting of lots of plant foods and not a lot of red meat.
Dave commits with his family to eating at least 5 homemade meals every week. He makes many of his meals “meatless” or enjoys salmon instead of red meat.
Salmon has omega-3 fatty acids that naturally fight inflammation.
Dave tries to eat a rainbow of foods at every meal: red-oranges like carrots and peppers, yellows like pineapple and onions, greens like broccoli and purple-blues like red cabbage and beans.
As Dave’s friend told him gently, even Dave's tendency to stress about his job could make him more prone to inflammation and infections.
Our immune system is directly connected to our brain! Mental health is important to immune health.
Dave takes steps to lower his stress levels. He takes more time to connect with his family. He starts to meditate before bed, breathing deeply while trying to clear his mind.
Meditating for just 15-20 minutes a few times per week can lower stress and improve wellbeing. Just like exercise, meditation can make people more resistant to colds and the flu.
By getting more sleep, managing stress, exercising and eating healthier, Dave is giving his body a better chance of fighting off the coronavirus without overreacting and hurting his lungs.
•Eat a healthy diet
•Get regular exercise
•Tend to your mental and spiritual health.
•Eliminate drugs, alcohol, tobacco and smoking.
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