If You Want to Boost Your Immune System, Adopt These 7 Healthy Habits Right Now
There's never been a better time to strengthen your immune system. The good news? Your daily habits can play a significant role in maintaining healthy immunity. Simply put: "Some things you do enhance your natural defenses, while others depress your immune function," says Neil Schachter, MD, Maurice Hexter professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu (Updated Edition).
To understand how your habits can boost your immune functioning, know that there are two basic types of immunity in the body: innate and acquired. The innate immune system is your body's first line of defense. "When an infectious agent, such as a bacteria or virus, attempts to invade your body, it immediately confronts the innate immune system, which has several components, each of which acts to restrict access to the body," Dr. Schachter says.
The first component involves physical barriers, like the skin and respiratory tract. While the skin is almost impenetrable, the respiratory tract is covered by mucus secretions, which trap infectious agents. But if the air you're breathing is dry, the lack of moisture can dry out those secretions and help viruses and bacteria gain a foothold. The second line of defense consists of chemical factors like enzymes that help the body destroy invaders. Alongside those enzymes are specialized white blood cells called phagocytes—what Dr. Schachter calls "the workhorse of the defense system"—which devour unwanted bacteria and viruses.
If these first-line defenses of the innate immune system fail, however, the acquired immune system activates, and it calls up several white blood cells to accomplish its mission. This is where lifestyle habits become critical. "Lifestyle choices play an important role in the function of these essential white blood cells, including macrophages, T and B lymphocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells," he explains.
So how can you improve your immunity to protect and encourage these natural defenses? Here are the seven lifelong habits to adopt for a killer immune system.