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How to Boost Your Immune System

Colds, respiratory illnesses, and the flu are all more common. Bad weather forces you to stay indoors more often, increasing your risk of infection. The cold, dry air also creates the perfect environment for long-living viruses. 

Frequent illness can make it challenging to stick to a running or cycling regimen, but there are several things you can do to boost your immune system and ward off sickness.

What causes a weak immune system?

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Your immune system is your body’s defense system that protects you from illness. It’s a complex system of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to combat viruses, bacteria, and other harmful intruders.

If your immune system isn’t working as it should, you may get sick more often or have other adverse side effects that impact your daily life. The most common reasons an immune system may not function at its best include:1

  • Chronic conditions like diabetes or cancer
  • Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus
  • Infectious diseases like HIV
  • Taking certain medications like corticosteroids or chemotherapy medications
  • Poor lifestyle habits

While some of these causes are treatable or preventable, others are not. Depending on the reason behind an improperly functioning immune system, you may be able to improve its ability to fight off bad actors that could make you sick.

How can I boost my immune system quickly?

Woman sitting in her bed drinking tea sick, with used tissues in her bed since she is sick.

There’s a lot of buzz about boosting your immune system because people get sick more often this time of year. And if you’re trying to maintain a running or cycling routine, taking time off while you’re sick can put a wrench in your plans.

However, when we talk about “boosting” your immune system, we mean making sure it’s working as efficiently as possible. If you literally did “boost” your immune system, it would be working in overdrive, which would not be good for you. (An overactive immune system causes inflammation and harmful side effects like allergies, asthma, or eczema..1)

Instead, this article reviews ways to make your immune system work better for you. Fortunately, if you want to boost your immune system quickly, it’s not necessary to reach for a supplement just yet. There are plenty of ways to boost your immune system quickly without taking a pill. Below, we’ve listed four simple and scientifically proven ways to strengthen your immune system and ward off sickness.

4 Effective ways to boost your immune system

1. Exercise regularly

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Cycling or running with Vingo is even more beneficial to your body than you might think! Consistent exercise will strengthen your muscles and help you get fit, but it also boosts your immune system and fights off viruses and bacteria. 

Researchers don’t know exactly how it works, but here’s one popular theory: Typically, you have small amounts of white blood cells that circulate throughout your body. When you exercise, your heart pumps more blood to your lungs and tissues. This process also affects lymph, a clear fluid that travels through the lymphatic system carrying white blood cells.

By increasing the movement of blood and lymph, you’re moving more immune cells into the bloodstream and spreading them around to various areas of your body, where they can catch more invading viruses and bacteria. The white blood cells also stick around in those different areas of your body for up to three hours after exercising, proving longer-lasting protection.

With consistent exercise, you have a distinct advantage! You essentially give your immune cells more time to patrol your body, which may help you avoid getting sick as often.

Other medical theories on how exercise increases your immunity include:2

  • Physical activity helps flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing your likelihood of getting a cold or other illnesses.
  • The rise in body temperature while working out may prevent bacteria from growing and help your body fight off viruses more efficiently (similar to how a fever works).
  • Regular exercise slows the release of stress hormones, protecting you against illness.

As a result, exercising when you’re sick may also have advantages. Of course, it’s important to consider your symptoms, their severity, and how you feel.3 If you feel miserable, it’s okay to take a break from exercising and give your body some rest. As you start feeling better, you can pick it back up again.

2. Eat well

Woman in her kitchen preparing a big salad full of veggies.

A poor diet can impair the production and activity of immune cells and antibodies, leaving you more susceptible to illnesses. So, on the opposite side of the spectrum, what foods strengthen your immune system?

Although one specific food or food group isn’t going to keep you from getting sick, eating a well-balanced diet that consists of a variety of vitamins and minerals will strengthen your body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases. Likewise, taking supplements isn’t the answer either, as they don’t contain all the great benefits of healthy foods.

Instead, one way to boost your immune system with your diet is to focus on eating whole foods. A variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains is best. Of course, you should also drink plenty of water!4 In addition to eating a healthy diet, take a daily multivitamin to fill in the gaps where your diet is lacking.

Research indicates that diets consisting mainly of processed foods, sugar, and red meat can cause chronic gut inflammation and suppress immunity.5 So it’s best to limit those things when you can.

3. Reduce stress

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We all know that stress is bad for you, but long-term stress promotes inflammation and impacts immune cell function, making it more difficult for your body to fight off sickness. Additionally, one recent study found people who suffer from stress-related disorders are 36% more likely to develop an autoimmune disease.6

To boost your immune system, it’s best to minimize stress as much as possible. Some proven and effective ways to do so include:7

  • Getting regular exercise like walking, cycling, running, or playing a sport
  • Meditating
  • Journaling
  • Practicing yoga or other mindfulness practices
  • Setting realistic goals
  • Learning time management strategies

Seeing a therapist is also a good idea if you struggle with stress management. A professional can help you develop effective coping strategies to minimize the stress in your life and establish healthy habits.

4. Get good quality sleep

A man sleeping in his bedroom.

To reap the full benefits of the healthy lifestyle habits listed above, you also have to get good quality sleep. 

It’s a well-known fact that sleep deprivation can make you sick. Research has proven people who don’t get enough good-quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. They’re also likely to recover more slowly from illnesses.8

Comparatively, sleep has many incredible benefits for immunity! According to the National Sleep Foundation, researchers have discovered that sleep contributes to both innate (general) and adaptive (specialized) immunity. For example, while you sleep, specific components of your immune system increase, including the production of cytokines associated with inflammation.9

Sleep also improves immune memory, helping your body remember how to recognize and respond to harmful antigens, and strengthens the effects of vaccines, strengthening the body’s immune response.9

Improving your sleep starts with establishing good habits. Things like sticking to a regular bedtime, limiting electronic use before bed, dimming the lights, and taking the time to wind down 30 minutes before bed can help you get a good night’s sleep.

Regular exercise can also make it easier to sleep at night. So whether you prefer cycling, running, walking, weight lifting, or something else, doing it regularly will help boost your immune system and keep you strong and healthy.

Key Takeaways:

Getting sick often makes it hard to stick to a cycling or running routine. Boost your immune system by eating well, getting adequate good-quality sleep, reducing stress, and exercising regularly.

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Sources:

  1. Disorders of the Immune System. (2021, August 8). Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/disorders-of-the-immune-system 
  2. Exercise and immunity. (n.d.). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007165.htm 
  3. Exercise and illness: Work out with a cold? (2022, February 23). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20058494?reDate=25012023 
  4. Nutrition and Immunity. (2022, December 5). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/ 
  5. Molendijk, I., van der Marel, S., & Maljaars, P. J. (2019). Towards a Food Pharmacy: Immunologic Modulation through Diet. Nutrients, 11(6), 1239. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061239 
  6. Song, H., Fang, F., Tomasson, G., Arnberg, F. K., Mataix-Cols, D., Fernández de la Cruz, L., Almqvist, C., Fall, K., & Valdimarsdóttir, U. A. (2018). Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease. JAMA, 319(23), 2388. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.7028 
  7. Chronic Stress. (2022, August 6). Yale Medicine. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder 
  8. Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick? (2018, November 28). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757 
  9. Suni, E. (2022, April 22). How Sleep Affects Immunity. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-health/how-sleep-affects-immunity 

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