Everyone’s least favorite season is here: cold and flu season. Is your immune system ready to battle the viruses and bacterium? Here are 5 common tips that will help you build a healthy immune system.

When it’s working correctly, the immune system is the body’s ultimate defense against disease. Bone marrow produces white blood cells that use infection-fighting antibodies to attack antigens. The immune system is incredibly complex, and it has been difficult for scientists to pinpoint direct links between the immune system and the external factors that enhance or weaken it. Still, research supports the idea that concentrating on overall health can increase your cell’s capacity to fight disease.

Eat Healthy & Exercise

  • Eat a healthy diet. Micronutrients like zinc, iron, folic acid, and vitamins A, C, B, and E are all associated with robust immune systems. The best way to make sure your body is getting enough of these nutrients is to eat a well-balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, and protein. Deficiencies in these essential nutrients can weaken the immune system. In extreme cases of malnutrition, the immune system can completely break down. This may be one of the reasons that impoverished countries become devastated by infectious disease.
  • Get enough sleep. Your body needs plenty of rest to fight off disease. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that most adults aim for 7–9 hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation has been linked to higher inflammation in the body and a lower number of T-cells. A lack of sleep also reduces the body’s ability to fight off antigens with fever.
  • Reduce stress in your life. When you become stressed, your body releases chemicals and hormones. This is a normal reaction and will not negatively impact your immune system as long as the stress you experience is isolated. However, when stress transforms into a constant state of anxiety, the chemicals and hormones that are released can impair your immune system. Chronic stress increases inflammation and can block immune cells from fighting infection.
  • Exercise, exercise, exercise. Training is integral to maintaining overall health. Moderate exercise increases circulation, likely allowing immune system cells to flow throughout the body more efficiently. Exercise has the bonus effect of reducing stress, which is another win for your immune system.
  • Wash your hands. This important habit is essential for fighting and preventing the spread of disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people scrub their hands for 20 seconds, or for the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Be sure to wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose!

Research on how the immune system works is ongoing, but if you practice overall health, you can reduce the possibility of contracting disease and infection.