Four habits that boost immunity and fight disease

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A healthy immune system is an important line of defense against Covid-19

By Melissa Burkley

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Published: Fri 29 May 2020, 11:44 AM

Last updated: Fri 29 May 2020, 1:48 PM

A healthy immune system is an important line of defense against Covid-19. Unfortunately, our modern lives are often built around bad habits that can weaken our immune systems and reduce our ability to fight off viruses, such as high stress, poor diet, and environmental toxins. With the current pandemic (not to mention threats like antibiotic-resistant bacteria), it is important to shore up the body's defenses now more than ever.
But don't worry - by incorporating a few minor changes to your daily routine, you can develop simple habits that will boost your immune system and protect you against future illness.
1. Stress less
One of the biggest threats to our immune system is stress. When we are exposed to chronic, daily stressors, it increases inflammation and cortisol, two factors that put a serious strain on the ability to fight off infections. This means that managing daily stressors is imperative, but that's easier said than done.
One of the healthiest (and oldest) ways to reduce stress is meditation, and research shows it strengthens your immune system. 
But it isn't something you can master in one day. It requires persistence and consistency, so the best thing to do is make it a daily habit. At the very least, commit to setting aside 10 minutes a day to meditate - not only will it boost your physical immune system, but it will also boost your psychological immune system and help you deal with the emotional fallout we are all feeling due to the pandemic.
And if you're not a fan of meditation, you can get the same benefits by engaging in other mindfulness practices, such as deep breathing, yoga, hiking, and even journaling. The point is to work into your daily schedule a time when you can give your mind a break, focus your attention inward, and rejuvenate your brain and body.
2. Socialize more
Most of us recognise that loneliness is bad for our minds, but few people realise it can also be bad for our bodies. Loneliness increases our stress levels, puts us at greater risk for infections and diseases. In fact, research shows that a lack of human connection wears on your body more than smoking, excessive alcohol use, or lack of exercise. Experts actually estimate that the effect of loneliness on health is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Even more shocking, loneliness has been shown to increase the risk of death by 25 to 45 per cent.
Given this, it comes as no surprise that loneliness impairs the immune system. 
The current rules regarding social distancing have certainly changed the way we connect with others, but it doesn't mean such connections are impossible. Consider small things that you can do to nurture your current relationships. Use social media to reconnect with old friends, use Zoom to set up a virtual lunch with loved ones, organise a family game night, or take a few minutes to chat with your neighbours from a safe six-foot distance. 
3. Get good quality sleep
Experts agree that one of the best ways to strengthen your immune system is to consistently get a good night's sleep. Those of us who clock less than the recommended seven hours per night are at a greater risk of developing chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease) and infectious diseases (the common cold and the flu).
4. Dial Down Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is now considered to be the underlying cause of nearly every human disease, from diabetes and heart disease to depression and fibromyalgia. A healthy diet is one of our best defenses against chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, our modern diet is chock full of things that increase inflammation. These include heavily processed foods (think fast food or nearly anything you eat out of a box or bag), poor quality oils, and added sugars. To make matters worse, many of the foods we consider "healthy" are contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals like arsenic.
If you want a strong immune system, you need to remove inflammatory foods in your diet. 
5. Get Moving
Movement is medicine, which is why daily exercise is one of the healthiest habits you can add to your routine. Not only does regular exercise help you lose weight, strengthen your heart, fight off depression, and give you energy, but it also provides huge benefits to your immune system. 
The reason exercise is so effective is that it actually boosts your immunity in two different ways. First, regular exercise reduces chronic inflammation, which is key to protecting yourself against disease. Second, exercise gives a well-needed boost to those all-important T-cells I discussed earlier, the ones that kill off invading pathogens. 
Melissa Burkley is an author and psychologist. -Psychology Today 

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