“Prevention is better than cure”, a timeless proverb that has been overused and yet remains the best words to remember when dealing with your body or health. Your immune system is the first line of defence against myriad harmful invaders and infections. The best way to prevent any disease and not wait to cure it is to strengthen your immune system, to empower your body to defend itself from disease-causing germs.The importance of a strong immune system cannot be stressed enough, especially during certain seasons, like the winter season and even more so at a time when the world is reeling under the dreadful COVID-19 pandemic. Since ancient times, civilizations have propagated the use of herbs, plants and other naturally available immune-strengthening powerhouses.
Read the article to find out the importance of a robust immune system, reasons for its weakness, signs and symptoms, and improve your immunity with natural foods, supplements and workouts.
COVID-19 has brought to the fore the importance of a robust immune system. Statistics suggest that the older population is more prone to catching the virus and succumbing to it. The younger population’s death rate is comparatively much lower; the reason is being attributed to the stronger immune system. But a healthy immune system is not only crucial during large scale pandemics; it is necessary throughout the year to fight off the other mild to severe diseases. Apart from protecting against various diseases, a healthy immune system also improves the quality of life.
The graph below shows the percentage of Indians who fell sick at least once or twice a year, who didn’t fall even ill once and those who did more than twice a year. This is the result of an extensive survey conducted across India in 2019. Only 24 percent of the respondents stated that they have not been sick even once a year. This indicates that they have a robust immune system.
A robust immune system successfully defends the body against various diseases. While some people are born with a strong immune system that gives them a natural ability to fight off infections, others are not so fortunate. Through natural foods, supplements and workouts, the ones born with a strong immune system and others can strengthen it to keep disease causing microorganisms at bay. There are so many microorganisms attacking your body throughout the year, and then there are occasional pandemics such as the COVID-19 that overwhelm the immune system. Hence, it becomes imperative to boost the immune system and prepare your body to defend against the inevitable attack.
There is no one factor that can cause the immune system to be strong or weak. Several reasons can cause your immune system to be either strong or weak. The following are some of the reasons that can cause the immune system to weaken, and thereby make the body more susceptible to successful attacks from pathogens:
Other Reasons That Cause a Weak Immune System
Several studies have shown that long-term stress weakens your body’s ability to respond to a threat efficiently.
Lack of adequate sleep is known to weaken your system. Getting a proper amount of sleep not only strengthens immunity naturally but also helps to fight off infections after falling sick.
A poor diet is often linked to a weak immune system. Several studies have shown that malnourished people are more susceptible to diseases due to a compromised immune system.
A lack of regular exercise and the resultant sedentary lifestyle can cause the immune system to weaken.
Old age weakens the immune system’s capability to defend against microorganisms.
Smoking causes a lot of health issues like cancer and respiratory illnesses that could weaken your body.
A little bit of alcohol does not cause much damage; it could also be beneficial, but a lot of it can weaken your immune system.
If you fall sick often and can’t figure out the reason for it, your immune system could be compromised. Watch out for these warning signs and try to boost your immune system.
It is common to be afflicted by cold a couple of times a year, but if you get frequent colds that do not run their course, your immune system could be struggling to fight off the infection.
If you suffer from recurring infections throughout the year, like sinusitis, allergies, pneumonia and other ailments, this could be an indication of a weak immune system.
People with a weak immune system may also experience digestive issues and autoimmune disorders.
Your body is capable of defending itself against a host of disease-causing microorganisms. Still, its defence capabilities are not impenetrable, and germs often find a chink in the armour which causes you to fall sick. Many are born with a weak immune system, and then there are many factors that can cause the immune system to weaken over time. But, there is no one solution to strengthen your immune system; it is the sum of several factors that leads to a robust immune system. So, there are several ways to improve the immune system. First, it is essential to get rid of certain habits that weaken the immune system. The next step is to provide the body with proper nutrition through natural foods, regular exercise and even supplements.
A lack of proper sleep is known to cause your immune system to weaken. Good quality sleep provides the body with much-needed rest and improves its ability to defend against a host of disease-causing microorganisms. Multiple studies have suggested that adequate sleep strengthens the immune system. But how much sleep does one need? It differs according to the individual’s age. Younger children and infants need more than 10 hours of sleep while young adults and older people need around 7-9 hours of sleep with a minimum of 6 hours. Although different studies suggest different numbers, there is no doubt that an adequate amount of quality sleep rejuvenates the mind and the body, and is necessary to stay healthy and improve the immune system.
While COVID-19 may have popularised the idea of social distancing, which is now ingrained in society’s consciousness, it is a practice that should be followed, even when the coronavirus has ceased to wreak havoc on the world. Everyone, regardless of their immune systems’ capability in defending against pathogens, must maintain social distancing from sick people suffering from contagious diseases. A person with a weak immune system can easily catch a disease from a sick individual; even a healthy person can catch an infection from others. So it is wise to keep a safe distance if you perceive someone to be suffering from a disease. Wearing a mask and sanitizing your hands and surfaces that you come in contact with also helps avoid being infected by another person.
Several diseases are caused by smoking, including cancer, flu, pneumonia, and other respiratory illnesses. It can cause your immune system to weaken and your body’s ability to fight diseases. Smoking is an addiction, and it can be challenging to kick the habit. So, you have to use certain aids to help you fight the addiction, like nicotine gums and patches. You could also consult a doctor to help you get rid of this habit and improve your immune system.
Stress is the root cause of several diseases. Long term stress compromises your immune system’s abilities. Stress can lead to the worsening of several conditions like obesity and heart disease. You can reduce stress by engaging in activities that relieve stress, such as – exercising, socializing, meditating and doing anything that makes you feel happy and at peace. Many experts believe stress to be the reason for many physical and psychological diseases, so reducing stress can help you strengthen your immune system and result in you achieving optimal health.
The simple act of keeping your surroundings and your hands clean could go a long way in avoiding diseases. Washing your hands before eating and after touching any dirty surface keeps the germs away. Germs lurk around every nook and corner of your house, office and public places. Every surface such as the kitchen platform, keyboard, phone, remote control and others around you are teeming with germs. But, there are also many who say that extreme hygiene can make our immune system more vulnerable to germs that wouldn’t threaten it otherwise.
Obesity can cause several diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It can also cause the immune system to weaken and thereby increase the risk of falling sick. Often obese people indulge in unhealthy eating, devoid of proper nutrition. Hence, it is essential to maintain a healthy diet and keep weight in check.
Many products in the market claim to strengthen the immune system, but the best and the healthiest way to do that is naturally. There are many naturally found food that are reservoirs of healthy nutrients that help boost your immune system. A diet rich in colourful foods full of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dry fruits, whole grains, herbs, spices, tea, and seafood can boost the immune system. Citrus fruits, almonds, garlic, ginger, spinach, turmeric and green tea are some of the foods that can improve your immune system’s strength. Consuming these foods helps to give your immunity a boost and keeps other diseases at bay. And, this is the best way to increase your immune system’s capability without suffering any side effects. Studies also show a direct relation between malnourishment or low nutritional intake and a weak immune system. Hence, this reinforces the belief that the best and safest way to increase your immune system is through natural foods.
While a healthy diet of whole natural foods is the best way to improve your immune system, you can use supplements to achieve the goal if it is difficult to get sufficient nutrients. Supplements can help you fulfil your nutritional needs. There are many supplements out there that claim to boost your immune system but you need to choose wisely. Supplements that give you additional vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin E, iron, and folic acid are vitamins and minerals known to strengthen the immune system. Adding them to your diet can boost your immune system.
Many studies show the relationship between regular physical activity and a strong immune system. Exercising not only boosts your immune system but also reduces stress, the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and high cholesterol. These diseases are some of the causes of a weak immune system, so exercising helps strengthen your immunity in more than one way. It is also easy to do. There are many exercises to choose from, and people of any age can do it anywhere. You can run, walk, jog, dance, do resistance training and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Even yoga is hugely beneficial for boosting immunity.
A strong immune system is not an option; it is a necessity. When the world is reeling under the devastating effects of COVID-19, the importance of a robust immune system has become more evident than ever. There are several ways through which you can strengthen your immune system. Following a healthy natural diet, regularly exercising and supplementing your diet and avoiding bad habits like smoking are some of the most effective ways to improve the immune system.
And while none of these can guarantee protection against COVID-19 or other pathogens, following these healthy practices can surely improve your body’s ability to fight against the diseases.
Devi Gajendran is a Post Graduate in Nutrition (University of Madras, Tamil Nadu) and has tons of experience in Fitness and Nutrition. She is the chief advisor and full time contributor at the Fit Indian and has the final say on all the segments under the Fit Indian paradigm, such as beauty, fitness, home remedies, diseases, diet tips, weight loss, weight gain and so on. A foodie herself, she believes in the Hippocrates quote,” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” A fitness enthusiast, she believes that the combination of diet and exercise can work wonders. When she is not sharing her valuable knowledge about food and fitness, she likes to spend quality time with her family members, do some healthy baking and listen to soft soulful music.