How to Support Your Immune System

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

Your immune system is here to keep you happy and healthy — protecting you from getting sick and fighting off infections when they happen. Heading into cold and flu season during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re probably wondering how to best care for your immune system. Here’s what you should know.

Eat a balanced diet.

A healthy immune system starts with simple things like good nutrition. And eating well doesn’t have to be complicated! If you eat a variety of foods (including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), you are most likely getting all the nutrients you need. If you’d like some easy-to-follow guidance on what to eat, try the ChooseMyPlate App.

Should I take multivitamins?

If you’re a “picky eater” or don’t eat fruits or vegetables often, then one daily multivitamin should be enough to reach your daily goal. Those who eat a vegan diet should take special care to get the minimum daily requirement of protein (70 grams or 4 oz).

On the other hand, if you do eat a balanced diet but still really want to take a multivitamin, there’s likely no harm in it. 

What about “immunity support” supplements?

Every cold and flu season, we see advertisements for supplements promising to boost our immune system with large amounts of Vitamin C, Zinc, and more. You should know that when it comes to vitamins, more doesn’t mean better. Once you reach your daily goal for any given vitamin, your body has what it needs and will turn excess into waste. 

 

Get enough sleep. 

How do I know if I’m getting enough sleep? 

You’ve probably heard that you need 8 hours of sleep each night, but if you’re not getting that, don’t panic! Most people need 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but others function just fine on less — so if you feel fine, there’s nothing to worry about. 

How can I sleep better?

  • Create a consistent schedule. 
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol within a couple hours of bedtime. 
  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine. 
  • Spend active time outside every day.
  • Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark. 
  • Try sleep stories or meditation.

 

Stay active, but listen to your body. 

When it comes to physical activity, finding the balance is key. 

We’ve all been told that staying active will keep you healthy, and when you’re feeling great, that’s true! But when you get sick, it’s exactly the opposite. By skipping that jog or gym session, you let your body use its energy to fight off the infection rather than exhaust it on exercise.

And even when you’re healthy, you should take caution not to overexert yourself. Overworking your body can weaken your immune system. 

 

Avoid sick people.

This one is even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is an airborne virus, which means the risk comes more from what you breathe than what you touch. To protect yourself and others, avoid anyone who is coughing or sneezing. 

Avoiding sick people becomes even trickier when some people with COVID-19 do not experience any symptoms. To minimize your risk, wear a mask and maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet anytime you are around people you don’t live with.

  • Maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet (but the more, the better). 
  • Wear a mask anytime you are around others.

 

Get healthcare from home when possible.

This one is a win-win, because when you’re feeling under the weather, you probably don’t want to leave the house anyway. More importantly, avoiding public spaces will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 as well as your risk of picking up more germs in a waiting area with other sick people.

 

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