Good health isn’t just a matter of not getting sick, it is about maintaining a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system keeps us from getting sick, but we have to build it up. The building blocks of a healthy immune system are the food we put in our bodies and the healthy habits we use to maintain them.
Good nutrition is the foundation to maintaining a healthy immune system.
What is “good nutrition?” If we listen to advertisements, we should be eating Cheerios for breakfast, a Slim Fast shake for lunch and a Smart Choice frozen dinner every evening. I love what author Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food (and I paraphrase): if it has to be labelled “healthy,” it probably isn’t. Let’s dump all the “knowledge” we have from advertising and start thinking about how our food was originally provided to us.
What kind of food did our ancient ancestors eat? (Sure, they didn’t live half as long as we do. But that’s because they didn’t know about bacteria and viruses, and they had to worry about getting attacked by wolves and other beasts.) Fresh food is best. Pollan suggests only shopping on the outer perimeters of the grocery store (if we have to go to the grocery store at all, that is), and that’s good advice. Eliminate processed food from your diet; it has been processed so much that they have to fortify it with vitamins and minerals! Processed foods that have more than 2 or 3 ingredients should key you in to the fact that they are manufactured, not fresh.
“Fresh” means that the food should look as close to nature as possible, as if you harvested it yourself from your garden or orchard. If you choose to blend it or cook it in your kitchen, then that’s up to you. But I doubt you’ll need to add corn-derived chemical products to it, or throw in any preservatives. Another good tip Pollan provides in his book is don’t buy anything to eat that doesn’t rot. You could put a Twinkie in a time capsule and 100 years later when they open it up it should be just as “fresh” as the day it was manufactured. There is something scary about that.
It is good to know the source of your fresh food as well—to make sure it is not genetically modified (not to be confused with hybridization, which is different) and what chemicals have been used in the soil or on the plant. Just in case, always wash it, even if it claims to be washed. Remember too that the farther something had to travel, the less ripe it had to be before it got to the store. If you can get produce out of your own backyard, that is best of all. Learn how to preserve seasonal foods in such a way that you don’t deplete them of all their nutritional value.
And don’t forget water! Our bodies are composed primarily of water, so it is essential for your kidneys, your skin and your immune system to get plenty of clean water. If you are not sure about the supplements in your water, get it tested. Your county should be able to provide you with the ability to test your water source.
Exercise is important as well. Because your immune system requires an operating healthy heart, and your heart depends on a decent cardiac workout, try to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily, earlier in your day if able. Get the heart pumping, and the lungs breathing. It will help your metabolism, your immune system, and will also improve sleep quality, another important factor in maintaining a healthy immune system.
While it varies from individual to individual, many studies show that the closer you can get to 8 – 9 hours of restful sleep, the better it is for the immune system. And restful sleep means exactly that—restful. Learn good sleep hygiene and make sleep a priority as it is a critical part of good health.
Finally, avoid those chemicals and compounds that we KNOW can cause problems. Our bodies are constantly battling off cancer cells. When our systems are stressed, the immune system cannot keep up and cancer gets out of control. If we know that the chemicals found in cigarettes have the potential to cause cancer, it is best to avoid those chemicals. If we know that certain exposures can lead to cancer, it is best to protect ourselves from those exposures as much as possible. Don’t assume that the EPA or your employer or landlord will take that responsibility—it’s your body and your responsibility to make sure you treat it right, so don’t make assumptions about the quality of the air you breathe or the potential exposures. Take it upon yourself to have your environment checked when you’re able, and to avoid the things you know you should avoid.
Try to put at least one of these suggestions into effect this week. Add other changes gradually and it won’t FEEL like a lifestyle change, even though that’s exactly what it is. You owe it to yourself—and your immune system!