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In our new pandemic reality, attending to the immune system is more of a priority than ever. Here, a guide to simple shifts that can make a difference.
For all of the yet-unanswerable questions about Covid-19, one thing is certain: The virus will be with us for the foreseeable future. With that difficult reality comes a renewed interest in making our bodies as resilient to disease as possible. “Among my patients, there definitely seems to be a bigger focus on the immune system,” says Nadia Musavvir, ND, a naturopathic doctor who splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Taking steps to boost immunity is a wise precaution anytime, especially when it comes to viral illnesses. “Viruses are not self-sufficient like bacteria,” says Adam Brittain, MD, MS, FACP, an internal medicine physician in Houston, TX. “They need our cells to live and replicate. Our immune system, if healthy, engulfs these viral particles and eliminates them.” Having a strong immune system doesn’t mean that you can’t be exposed to Covid-19 or other viruses, but it does give you a much better chance of fighting them.
The key to bolstering your immune system is to reduce inflammation, the body’s protective response against harm. “At the root of all known diseases is inflammation,” says Dr. Brittain. “As this inflammation continues its assault on the body, the more the immune system becomes overworked and deficient in its effort to fight the inflammation.”
With that in mind, we asked health experts for their best advice on boosting immunity through simple lifestyle choices. Here, a guide to propelling your immune system to Dwayne Johnson levels of strength—along with some of our favorite tools to support you in achieving that goal.
EAT IMMUNITY-BOOSTING FOODS
Again, it’s all about reducing inflammation. “Some foods can be more pro-inflammatory than others,” says Dr. Musavvir. (You know the ones: they’re processed, refined, or loaded with saturated fat.) “All of those will promote more excessive inflammation, which can make you more prone to getting sick,” she says.
To better support the immune system, she favors a plant-based diet rich in polyphenols—the various antioxidant-packed micronutrients that can improve everything from heart health to skin aging. To ensure you’re getting a wide range of them, consider getting some dietary support. “Most people could benefit from taking some supplements,” Dr. Musavvir says. (Some favorites highlighted, below.)
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EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE
Moving your body is a wise idea for a host of reasons, and—surprise!—it’s good for the immune system, too. From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, exercise helps the body’s energy flow. “You want your thoughts and your body to move freely,” Dr. Mahon says. “That allows everything to function optimally, and that in turn makes our immune system very strong.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean pushing your body to the limit, especially considering the new realities we’re all adjusting to. “There’s a lot of pressure to make sure you’re working out right now,” says Dr. Musavvir, “but I think it’s important to implement practices that are comfortable and doable for you.” Whether that involves restorative yoga poses or 20-mile bike rides, just move.
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EMBRACE THE POWER OF TOUCH AND CONNECTION
Physical touch alone doesn’t boost immunity, but it can reduce stress—and that provides benefits. “As long as the touches are soothing, it’s a good thing,” says Dr. Mahon. “It could be a self-massage, sexual intimacy, or just being near another person for connection.”
Even if you can’t see a massage therapist right now, an at-home rub-down—given to yourself or by a partner—can help you release tension physically and mentally. Lymphatic massage, which uses gentle movements to move the lymph fluids that remove waste build-up, is an especially good technique. “Lymph is an important part of the immune and circulatory systems,” Dr. Musavvir says. “If you’re stimulating lymph and keeping toxins moving, I think that's a great practice to implement.”
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