Request a demo
Back to Blog

5 ways to boost your immune system by taking care of your whole self

February 7, 2022 - 12 min read

boost-immune-system-person-sneezes-in-bed

Jump to section

How can you boost your immune system?

5 ways to boost your immune system

Tips to boost your immune system in 24 hours

Your immune system is your body’s way of protecting you against illness and infection. When it’s working well, you’re able to fight off bacteria, viruses, and other germs that make you sick. But when it’s not working well, it might react too much or too little. Too little means that you’re susceptible to colds and other ailments. Too much can create an autoimmune illness or other disorders.

The shelves are full of supplements promising to boost immune system function. But there are some important things that you can do to feel — and stay — healthy that don’t necessarily involve taking a pill. Learn how the immune system functions and what you can do to feel your best.

How can you boost your immune system?

To learn how to boost your immune system, you should first understand a bit about how the immune system works. 

Your immune system isn’t located in one part of your body. Rather, it’s the combination of organs, cells, chemicals, and proteins called antibodies. When this system senses an incoming infection, it mobilizes a defensive response. The exact response depends on which part of the immune system the invading organism (often called a pathogen) comes into contact with.  

Do viruses strengthen your immune system?

Your immune system “remembers” every pathogen it encounters. It records information about the invader so it can fight it more efficiently next time. In fact, that’s the basic idea behind vaccinations. You introduce your immune system to a weakened pathogen so that it can recognize it more easily in the future.

Many of us are familiar with the signs that a cold might be coming on. Learning to recognize the signs of a healthy immune system can help you decide how to help your body fight off these pathogens.

Generally, if you feel good, you’re probably doing just fine. If you have chronic sleep, stomach, or health issues, it could be a sign that your immune function is off. 

When your body recognizes an invader, it often triggers an inflammatory response. These immune cells help to trap bacteria and increase blood flow to the affected area. If you have chronic pain or inflammation, it could be a sign that your immune system is working overtime.

The science is still out on whether it’s possible to boost overall immune health. But if you understand the various parts of the body that contribute to the immune response, you can help them each function better.

5 ways to boost your immune system

The best way to improve your immune system is to give it as much to work with as possible. That means taking care of your basic health needs. It may seem like common sense, but eating well and getting enough rest are key to immune function.

Here are some ways to boost your immune system:

1. Get outside

Fresh air always does a body good, and there are many benefits to being out in nature. Exposure to sunlight helps boost your levels of vitamin D. Research indicates that vitamin D may help prevent chronic illness, improve bone health, and ease depression. 

While you’re outside, open a window or two and let the air in your home circulate. Many of us commute less than we used to. Rebreathing the same stale air can increase your chances of getting sick and leave you feeling less than invigorated.

New call-to-action

2. Get enough sleep

Sleep might be the single most important factor in regulating — or disregulating — our immune function. Studies show that people who are sleep deprived are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. It seems that sleep is important for our systems to properly “remember” and fight off infections. So if you’re feeling sluggish, do yourself and your immunity a favor and sleep it off.

3. Reduce your stress

When we’re stressed, our body activates the flight-or-flight response. That part of our nervous system was designed to help us escape from predators, so it prioritizes efficient action. After all, it doesn’t make sense to be in recovery mode when you’re fighting off a raptor.

Unfortunately, this also suppresses the immune response, leaving us more open to illness and infection. You can help your body do the important work it needs to recover by managing your chronic stress levels. Rest, practice mindfulness, and take time for Inner Work®. A proactive approach to your mental and physical well-being makes your outer work easier and more sustainable.

boost-immune-system-person-makes-a-cup-of-tea

4. Be mindful about what you eat

What you eat — and how you eat it — affects your overall health in multiple ways.

For one, food is an important source of nutrients for the body. What you eat can help improve your sleep hygiene, your concentration, and your energy levels. If you eat certain foods that you have a sensitivity to, they may trigger an immune response (just like a pathogen does). This is what we know as an allergic response.

It’s also important to cultivate a mindful and positive relationship with food, which can be challenging for many of us. Food is nourishing, but it’s also meant to be enjoyed. It shouldn’t become a source of stress. Talking to a nutritionist about your eating habits can help you make dietary choices that are right for you.

When looking for foods that boost your immune system, you’ll want to look for foods that are high in nutrients and boost circulation. Here are some ideas:

5. Exercise regularly

There’s an interesting link between exercise and immune function. Physical activity doesn’t just boost the immune system — it actually helps to moderate it. Regular exercise helps prevent the immune response from becoming hyperactive. It lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease.

Physical exercise is anti-inflammatory and can help reduce stress. It also helps you sleep better and gets you outside, making it a great way to knock off most of this list.

boost-immune-system-person-exercises-outside

Can you catch a cold from being cold?

Not really — although if you feel like you’re more likely to get sick in the winter, you’re not wrong.

You can’t get sick from being in cold air — it’s an old myth (that my family still swears by). But the cold can indirectly exacerbate other factors that make you more likely to get sick. For one, days are shorter in the wintertime. Not only does that mean we get less exposure to vitamin D, but so do germs. While germs don’t have any particular feelings about vitamin D, the UV rays in sunlight do help kill pathogens.

We also spend far less time outdoors when it’s cold. Being inside for prolonged amounts of time helps germs spread faster from person to person. The dry air from the cold (and indoor heating systems) dehydrates our nasal passages. This makes them more vulnerable to the germs that would normally get trapped and expelled.

So no — you won’t get sick from the cold (unless you catch hypothermia). That being said, you should still be careful to protect yourself from infectious diseases in the winter. After all, there’s a reason they call it “cold and flu season.”

Tips to boost your immune system in 24 hours

What happens if you’re already getting sick? Is all of this “too little, too late?” Are there ways you can boost your immune system overnight?

Prevention is always better than the cure, but if you can intervene before illness sets in, you should. But you may want extra support if you feel yourself coming down with the common cold or before you head into a crowd. Here are some ways you can boost your immune system fast:

Final thoughts

Your immune system is truly a “whole person” system, and it pays dividends when you take care of it. Your mental, physical, and emotional health all play a part in how well your immune system operates. If you want to avoid getting sick, the best thing you can do is listen to your body. Drink plenty of water, get lots of rest, and take time to restore your mind and spirit.

New call-to-action

Published February 7, 2022

Allaya Cooks-Campbell

BetterUp Staff Writer

Read Next

Well-being
14 min read | July 23, 2021

Boost energy and motivation (and maybe change your life) — 19 moves

Feeling drained? Learning how to increase your energy and motivation is important. Here are 7 reasons why you may feel sluggish and strategies to help. Read More
Well-being
13 min read | November 10, 2021

Dealing with work anxiety? How, when, and if you should tell your boss

Work anxiety can make you feel like you’re always on the verge of failure. Learn the four different kinds of anxiety in the workplace and how to ask for support. Read More
Well-being
26 min read | January 4, 2022

6 healthy habits you can start this week

Incorporating healthy habits can be challenging at first. Find out how to improve your overall well-being — and create habits that turn into change. Read More
Well-being
16 min read | April 21, 2022

Mental health days: What, when and why you shouldn’t hesitate to take one

Taking time for yourself can make you better at — well, everything. Learn about mental health days, why they matter, and how to make the most of them. Read More
Well-being
20 min read | May 23, 2022

How (and why) to call in sick — even when you’re working from home

Here’s how to call in sick to get the time you need to recover while being responsible and considerate of your team. Read More
Well-being
14 min read | September 20, 2022

How to talk to your boss about mental health, let’s sit down and chat

Unsure about how to talk to your boss about mental health? Learn the do’s and don’ts for talking to your boss, and how to speak your mind about your well-being. Read More
Well-being
15 min read | September 21, 2022

Don’t let me down: how to get over a fear of disappointing others

Letting go of others’ expectations is vital to helping you grow. Here’s how to get over a few of disappointing others. Read More
Well-being
13 min read | November 23, 2022

Learn how to make friends online to expand your circle

Friendship is vital to our health and happiness but many of us don’t have the time to find new friends. Here are some tips for how to make friends online. Read More
Well-being
11 min read | November 21, 2022

What is willpower? Understanding how to exercise self-control

Wondering what willpower is? Here’s your guide to learning all about where willpower comes from, how to harness it, and what kind of benefits it brings you Read More

Stay connected with BetterUp

Get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research.