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10 ways to boost your immune system

Siski Green / 21 January 2015 ( 19 February 2020 )

Make sure your immune system stays in good condition by following these tips.

Dandelion in field on a sunny day
Get out in the sun for a dose of immune enhancing vitamin D

As we get older, our immune system tends becomes less sturdy, which is why we are at greater risk of infections as well as more serious problems, such as cancer, as we age. The good news is there are plenty of ways to help your immune system stay firing on all cylinders. Follow these tips.

1. Pick up some berries to boost immunity

Berries of all kinds contain a whole range of plant chemicals, or phytonutrients as experts call them, which they say can help bolster the immune system.[1] Put a handful with your cereal for breakfast, snack on them throughout the day, or add them to a smoothie.

The 10 healthiest berries

2. Stay warm to boost your immune system

That old wives’ tale about catching a cold if you get wet in the rain isn’t true. But say scientists getting chilled can pave the way for cold-causing bugs to take hold, which is why winter tends to be peak season for coughs and sneezes. As temperatures drop outside, we breathe in colder air that chills our upper airways enabling cold viruses to flourish.[2] Wrapping up warm and wearing a scarf could be your best move to keep colds at bay.

Need to talk to a GP from the comfort of your own home? Saga Health Insurance customers can talk to a qualified, practising UK GP 24 hours a day by phone. Find out more about our GP service.

3. Sleep well for better immunity

Like exercise, restful sleep is absolutely essential for your health. When you sleep levels of certain protective immune system chemicals in your body increase in levels, while inflammatory cells decline, which is why less sleep could result in a deprived immune system.[3]

How to get a better night's sleep

4. Take a trip to the sun to strengthen your immune system

Vitamin D, which is synthesised in the skin from UVB rays, is vital to maintain a healthy immune system. And, while you can get vitamin D from some foods – think oily fish like salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel, red meat, liver, egg yolks and fortified foods like fat spreads and some breakfast cereals - the best way to get some is to expose your skin to sunlight [4]. What better excuse to book that sunshine holiday?

5. Go for garlic for a strong immune system

Good for scaring off vampires and also for enhancing immunity garlic is rich in immune-balancing plant compounds called organosulfides. [5][6] If you don’t like the taste of raw garlic, try a supplement.

6. Stay up to date with your jabs for improved immunity

Help give your immune system a fighting chance by getting vaccinated against flu yearly. It’s a good idea too to take advantage of the other vaccines offered on the NHS. These include the pneumococcal vaccine – aka the pneumonia jab - which protects against pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis; the shingles vaccine; and Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis or whooping cough) if you didn’t have this earlier in life.[7]

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7. Improve your immune system with exercise

Staying fit and active can lower your risk of falling ill and keep your immune system healthy.[8] Moderate aerobic activities - think brisk walking, light aerobics, swimming and cycling or anything that gets you slightly breathless and your heart pumping harder - are the best choice say experts. Shoot for 150 minutes a week. But don’t overdo it. Over-vigorous training can actually dampen the immune system.

Need to get more active, start with our guide to the basics of exercise

8. Eat yogurt to avoid a cold

Probiotics have been shown to stimulate white blood cells which help keep you from getting sick, but you needn’t take pills. Research shows that yogurt – and in particular a strain of the lactobacillus bulgaris bacterium found in some yogurts – helps stimulate the immune system at least in mice. Meanwhile in people a clinical trial found this same strain lowered incidence of the common cold in older people who took it in yogurt.[9]

Find out more about probiotics

9. Laughter is the best medicine

Laughing gets your heart racing to nearly the same levels as when you exercise and that helps keep your body in good shape. Laughter also helps you de-stress and stress is a major factor in reducing your immune response.[10] So watch a funny film, go to a comedy show or spend the afternoon with some kids – they tend to laugh more often than adults, and it’s contagious!

10. Get your oats to strengthen immunity

Beta-glucan, a soluble fibre found in oats, has been found to stimulate the immune system.[11] And that’s not all. Oats also contain a unique group of antioxidants called avenanthramide (AVA) which have anti-inflammatory properties.[12] Eat porridge for breakfast, add oats to the top of a crumble for extra crunch or mix into a smoothie.

Try one of these delicious ideas for porridge

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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