Sleep, Exercise, and Eat Your Way to a Stronger Immune System
Prepared by: Tara Patriquin, R.H.N., RMT |
Staying healthy is a balancing act between immune boosters
and immunity drainers. After all,
we’re surrounded by things that compromise our immune system on a daily basis; whether it’s
pol ution, questionable lifestyle choices, or viruses, for example. It seems that at no time do we
hear more about “immune boosters
” than in the winter. The common cold is one of the leading
reasons for medical visits during the winter. But, building a healthy immune system is a year-
It is big business to sel products designed to strengthen your immune system. You can Google
any number of lists offering the best immune boosters
, with everything from the now mainstream
Echinacea to the little known Graviola extract. But I’ve never been the most compliant with a
supplement regimen, and I’m a simple girl after a simple approach. I keep my immune boosters
old school: sleep, exercise, and diet. After al , these are the pillars of health and you always have
them at your disposal; no hunting for rare ingredients required! SLEEP
Our natural sleep patterns are control ed by an internal body clock called a circadian clock.
Without getting too detailed, the important thing to understand about sleep is that this is when
many of our critical metabolic processes do their best work, regulating body temperature,
hormone levels, heart rate and other vital body functions. In other words, when we sleep we
heal. Sleep requirements differ between individuals, but every human being needs enough
sleep each day to revive brain cel s and other body systems so they’l continue to function
effectively. If someone is suffering chronic loss of sleep, these important functions soon become
impaired and overal health is affected.
In fact, a Chronobiology International
publication as recent as August 2013 explores the link
between the circadian clock and the body’s natural biological clock that regulates our immune
cells and activity. The researchers discovered that the crosstalk between these clocks had
potential y grave consequences on a person’s overall health in states of sleep deprivation.
Many factors of our sleep habits are within our control. For example, it is relatively easy to
manage your caffeine intake, meal consumption, and mental stimulation near your bedtime.
Keeping a consistent sleep and rise time on the alarm clock is also extremely helpful to
regulating your circadian clock.
One of my favourite bedtime routines is to practice some Pranayama: the art of mindful
breathing. The extra oxygen that you will take in will not only help to al eviate muscle tension, but
it will relax the mind too. The rhythmic pattern of breathing can also be calming and meditative.
And since stress can interfere with the immune system, a little meditation can go a long way. I’ve
written more in-depth on the science of Pranayama here: 121wellnessblog.ca/?p=247 EXERCISE
You don’t need to be a genius to know that exercise, particularly strength-training exercise, is
the best support to our musculoskeletal health. Did you know that it is also an incredible immune-
booster. However, the trick is in finding the amount of exercise that is right for you and your
immune system. The biggest risk is in chronic overtraining. The idea that we need to go to the
gym 5 days a week and sweat it out for an hour is rapidly fal ing by the wayside. Just as we heal
in our sleep, we rebuild our exhausted muscles during our rest days. Remember that building
tissue is a metabolic process that requires the right combination of stimulation, nutrients, and rest.
The most beneficial exercise approach is one or two high-intensity strength training sessions per
week, along with other gentle exercise on intermittent days, such as yoga, swimming, skating, or
cycling. These activities not only promote cardiovascular health, they also help you to produce
“feel good” hormones, such as endorphins and oxytocin. These hormones not only reduce
perception of pain, but enhance the immune response. DIET
I saved the best for last: diet! That old cliché, “You are what you eat” couldn’t be any more true
when it comes to the immune system. We need certain nutrients to fuel cel s, build tissue, and
fend off the 'enemy,' and it al starts deep down in the guts with a healthy digestive system.
Many practitioners believe that healthy digestion is the key to unlocking overal health. In the
context of immunity, perhaps the best al ies are probiotics. Probiotics help to restore the good
bacteria in the digestive tract. Intestinal bacteria are like natural antibiotics. They help to disarm
any bad bacteria in your guts. You can take a probiotic supplement, or you can consume
foods that promote the production and survival of good bacteria, such as the following
fermented foods: kefir, kimchi, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, and of course, yoghurt.
Some other powerful immune boosters
you can add to your diet are roots that you likely already
use to add flavour to your meal, such as onions, raw garlic, horseradish, radishes, daikon, and
ginger. These have long been acknowledged for their medicinal properties from Paleolithic
times to present day. In fact, the therapeutic benefits of garlic have been documented in the
oldest published medical text, Ebers Papyrus. Specifical y, these roots aid in digestion, improve
circulation, contain a host of nutrients and enzymes, and have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic
All foods aside, there is one supplement that I am compliant with in my diet: Vitamin D. We hear
a lot about Vitamin C and its efficacy in boosting the immune system. It certainly deserves al the
attention it gets. But Vitamin D doesn’t get as much press, when it should. Dating as far back as
before the invention of antibiotics, Vitamin D is reported to have been critical in the treatment of
Tuberculosis. It is both powerful at improving the immune system and helping to ward off stress
and seasonal depression. Supplementation is especial y crucial at times when our exposure to
sunlight is diminished.
Of course, al the good foods on the planet can only do so much if we are bombarding our
digestive system with aggravating foods that actual y tax the immune system. Hopeful y no one
will be surprised when I name refined sugar and processed foods as the two worst things in our
modern day diet. The topic of “the ideal diet” is a very grey area. I strongly believe in the value
of dietary diversity. One thing that is black and white, though, is that refined sugar and
processed foods have no valuable place in a healthy diet. If you can limit consumption of these
offenders to only 10% of your dietary regimen, you will see vast improvements in energy, mood,
and your overal health. So next time you reach for some “contraband”, ask yourself what it’s
worth to you. Imagine the possibilities if you keep the health of your immune system at the
forefront of your lifestyle choices!
Stil , even when you do everything right you might get stuck with a cold. My medicine cabinet is
stocked with Oil of Oregano (a potent antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory) and a
Neti Pot (be sure to use clean distilled water).
And at the first signs of a cold, I drink plenty of homemade “neo-citran”:
8 oz boiling water
The juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp Raw Honey (Raw honey is another incredible immune booster that cannot go without
mention. Honey contains many essential nutrients, most notably B vitamins, along with vitamins
C, D, and E. It is also believed to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.)
Stay healthy, stay happy!
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252.3 (Mar 1985):114-19 Cermakian N, Lange T, Golombek D, Sarkar D, Nakao A, Shibata S, Mazzoccoli G. “Crosstalk between the circadian clock circuitry and the immune system.” Chronobiology International
30.7 (Aug 2013):870-88. Fashner J, Ericson K, Werner S. “Treatment of the common cold in children and adults.” American Family Physician
86.2 (Jul 2012):153-9. Hackney AC, Koltun KJ. “The immune system and overtraining in athletes: clinical implications.” Acta Clinica Croatica
51.4 (Dec 2012):633-41. Review. Ho RT, Wang CW, Ng SM, Ho AH, Ziea ET, Wong VT, Chan CL. “The effect of t'ai chi exercise on immunity and infections: a systematic review of control ed trials.” Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
19.5 (May 2013):389-96. Sasaki S, Matsuura T, Takahashi R, Iwasa T, Watanabe H, Shirai K, Nakamoto H, Goto S, Akita S, Kobayashi Y. “Effects of regular exercise on neutrophil functions, oxidative stress parameters and antibody responses against 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal adducts in middle aged humans.” Exercise Immunology Review
19 (2013):60-71. Sjöberg F, Svanborg E. “How do we know when patients sleep properly or why they do not?” Critical Care Medicine
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©Copyright, 1990, by the Massachusetts Medical Society EFFECTS OF HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE IN MEN OVER 60 YEARS OLD DANIEL RUDMAN, M.D., AXEL G. FELLER, M.D., HOSKOTE S. NAGRAJ, M.D., GREGORY A. GERGANS, M.D., PARDEE Y. LALITHA, M.D., ALLEN F. GOLDBERG, D.D.S., ROBERT A. SCHLENKER, PH.D., LESTER COHN, M.D., INGE W. RUDMAN, B.S., AND DALE E. MATTSON, PH.D. Abstract In group 1, the mean plas
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