Strengthen your immune system: here’s how

A healthy lifestyle for a strong immune system to fight viruses, bacteria and other germs. The most important tips for strengthening the body’s defences.

02.09.2021 Lara Brunner

Our immune system protects us against harmful substances, disease-causing cell changes and pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. The stronger your immune system, the lower your risk of catching colds, flu or other infections.

Natural ways to strengthen your immune system

Numerous factors affect the immune system, and we as individuals also play a major role. A healthy lifestyle is vital for keeping the body’s defences strong. This includes mindfulness, good nutrition and exercise, among other things. This includes mindfulness, a balanced diet and enough exercise, but emotions such as joy and sorrow also have an impact on our immune system. Laughing helps produce immune cells and antibodies, putting us in a better position to fight off pathogens. Anyone who suppresses negative feelings over the long term, however, will damage their health. This leaves the immune system more susceptible to infection.

Why laughing and crying are healthy

Kissing helps the immune system

Did you know that kissing triggers more than feelings of happiness? Our immune system loves it, too – when we kiss, we swap our bodies’ own neurotransmitters and thousands of bacteria, strengthening our resistance as we do so.

1. Reduce stress

In stressful situations, the body releases more stress hormones and produces more immune cells. Afterwards, it has to recover – if this doesn’t happen, the level of stress hormones increases disproportionately. Additionally, the number and activity of the immune cells decreases, which weakens the immune system. 

Constant stressors at work or in your personal life can cause persistent stress. Set clear priorities and learn to say “no” sometimes. Take longer periods of rest on a regular basis. Relaxation exercises such as meditation, yoga and autogenic training can also help your immune system respond better. 

Mindfulness: from autogenic training to meditation and yoga

Good to know: COMPLETA covers 75% of the costs of recognised courses that promote health, up to a maximum of CHF 200 per calendar year.

Details about payment of costs with COMPLETA

2. Eat a balanced diet

Make sure you eat a balanced diet. Eat three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit a day. Regularly include grains, legumes, meat, fish, milk and dairy products in your diet, and where possible, use fresh ingredients.

Make sure you drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of water a day. If the mucous membranes don’t have a liquid film protecting them, pathogens can penetrate the body more easily. That’s why it’s important to drink enough, especially when the air is dry. If you don’t like drinking water, unsweetened tea and watered-down juice are good alternatives.

Good to know: alcohol deactivates certain parts of the immune system for at least 24 hours, and nicotine reduces the number of immune cells and antibodies in the blood.

A balanced diet: information and tips

Which nutrients are important for the immune system?

Vitamins and minerals help the immune system function normally. Eat a balanced diet to make sure you’re getting enough essential nutrients. 

  • Vitamin A: milk, dairy products, yellow fruit and vegetables
  • Vitamin D: fish, avocado, mushrooms
  • Vitamin C: potatoes, vegetables, fruit
  • Vitamin B complex (B6/B9/B12): animal-based foods, vegetables, wholemeal products
  • Iron: meat, grains, nuts
  • Copper: shellfish, legumes, whole grains, nuts
  • Selenium: fish, meat, legumes, nuts
  • Zinc: meat, eggs, milk, dairy products, wholemeal products

Good to know: there is often a lack of clear evidence to suggest that there are benefits associated with taking supplements to strengthen the immune system.

More information about vitamin D – the sun hormone

3. Exercise regularly

Moderate exercise helps the body produce and activate more immune cells. Try introducing more exercise into your daily routine – ideally in the fresh air. Sunlight and oxygen additionally stimulate your immune system. Take the stairs rather than the lift, and walk short distances. Find a sport you like and incorporate at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise into your weekly routine. Swimming, cycling and jogging are all great options. 

But don’t overdo it – if the body doesn’t have enough time to recover, the risk of infection increases. The body constantly releases stress hormones, which suppresses the immune system.

Good to know: the number of immune cells decreases immediately after an exercise session, which makes you particularly susceptible to infection during this time.

Exercise: a basic physiological need

4. Get enough sleep

How well the body’s defences function depends strongly on how long and how well we sleep. The sleep hormone melatonin helps the body regenerate. While we’re asleep, the number of natural immune cells increases. In the event of sleep deprivation, the body releases more stress hormones, which in turn suppress the immune system.

How important melatonin is for our sleep Tips for improved sleep

How does the immune system work?

The immune system is a highly complex and sensitive network. It consists of various organs, cell types and proteins that protect the body from pathogens including bacteria, viruses and fungi. A distinction is made between non-specific, innate immunity and specific, acquired immunity, which are closely linked.

  • Non-specific (innate) immunity protects the body from all types of pathogens. Immune cells such as phagocytes and killer cells play a major role – they fight harmful substances and pathogens that, for instance, enter the body via the skin or digestive system.
  • Specific (acquired) immunity takes over when the non-specific immune system is unable to kill pathogens. It produces antibodies that it specifically uses to fight certain pathogens. The specific immune system is also capable of remembering recurring pathogens, meaning it knows exactly how to kill them. And it never stops learning; this enables the body to fight bacteria and viruses that change over time.

Read more

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The next bout of flu might be doing the rounds soon. These tips will help protect you from catching flu.
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