Strategies that can help build strong immune systems

Metro Service
Fruits and vegetables are one of many options that can be incorporated into a healthy diet in order to support immune health.

■ Metro Service

A strong immune system can go a long way toward ensuring one’s overall health. But bolstering one’s immune system is no small task, as even medical researchers admit there is still much to learn about the links between lifestyle and immune function.
The Harvard Medical School notes that a strongly functioning immune system requires balance and harmony. It’s reasonable that a highly unhealthy lifestyle will compromise the immune system, but it’s also worth noting that pushing the body too hard in the other direction can adversely have an effect as well.
Researchers continue to study the potential links between immune response and variables such as diet, exercise, age, and psychological stress. Though studies are ongoing, the Harvard Medical School notes that the immune system is affected by various strategies associated with healthy living.
Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked to a host of diseases and ailments, so it’s no surprise that it has an effect on the immune system. The National Cancer Institute notes that cigarette smoke contains high levels of tar and other chemicals, which compromise the immune system’s ability to combat infections. The consequences of smoking can be both immediate and long-term. Smokers’ immune systems may not be able to fend off common infections like a cold as effectively as nonsmokers. As smokers keep smoking, over time their immune systems will continue to weaken, which the NCI says makes them more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.
Eat a healthy diet. There aren’t any magical foods that can strengthen the immune system to a point where infection is impossible. However, the Cleveland Clinic notes that a balanced, healthy diet that includes a mix of vitamins and minerals plays a role in strengthening the immune system. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a bevy of vitamins and antioxidants that help the immune system fight off potential infections. Many people bemoan the absence of fresh fruits and vegetables at their local grocery stores during certain times of the year. But the Cleveland Clinic notes that manufacturers typically freeze frozen fruits and vegetables at peak ripeness. That means frozen fruits and vegetables can provide similar nutrients as fresh ones available during certain seasons of the year.
Exercise regularly. Like a healthy diet, routine exercise provides a host of benefits and one such benefit is its impact on the immune system. The U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that the precise relationship between exercise and immune system function remains a mystery. Some researchers suspect that physical activity may flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways, reducing one’s risk of getting a cold, flu, or other illness. Another theory suggests that exercise causes changes in white blood cells, which the immune system uses to fight disease. These exercise-related changes may make it possible for the cells to detect illnesses earlier than they would if the body was not exercised regularly. While it’s important to note that these are just theories, the Harvard Medical School suggests that it’s reasonable to consider moderate regular exercise an important component of a healthy, immune-boosting lifestyle.
Don’t buy into the hype. Men and women interested in boosting their immune systems will no doubt find many products claiming to do just that. The Harvard Medical School urges consumers to be skeptical of such products, many of which make dubious claims that are not rooted in recognized scientific research.
The immune system remains a mystery in many ways. But several healthy strategies may help people boost their immune systems and potentially reduce their risk of infection.

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