With a global pandemic barely under our belts and a flu season that just seems to get less and less predictable every year, now is a better time than ever to check in on your immune system and ensure that it’s up to par. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The immune system is difficult to target specifically because it’s exactly what its name implies, a system. Total body health is the only way to ensure that you’re doing what’s best for your immune system. Although there’s limited information available regarding maintaining a healthy immune system, it certainly doesn’t hurt to notice correlations between changes to your lifestyle and how they directly affect the way that you feel.

Immune system health seems to be directly linked to overall health and wellbeing, so what are some guaranteed ways to improve it?

  1. Drink more water!

It seems like a no-brainer but keeping your body hydrated is key to an improved physical and mental condition. Many people don’t realize when they’re dehydrated. Because water is an integral part of survival, we tend not to keep track of how often we’re drinking because as long as we do drink when we feel thirsty, we should be good, right? Wrong. Thirst can disguise itself as hunger, dizziness, low energy, and dry -mouth, not just feeling thirsty. So how can we ensure that we’re getting the recommended eight glasses a day?

Try incorporating fruits into your water. Filling a pitcher with water, adding sliced fruit of your liking, and putting it in the refrigerator overnight might incentivize you to drink more of it. Experiment with different fruits, mint, even cucumber. Investing in a good quality water bottle also helps. Instead of filling multiple glasses with water incrementally throughout the day, fill a 32 ounce water bottle as soon as you wake up in the morning and try to finish two a day. This way you don’t have to continuously fill glasses and can keep track of how much water you’re actually drinking.

  1. Get good sleep.

It’s easier said than done but getting good sleep is also essential for energy levels, irritability, focus and overall mental clarity. If anxious thoughts are keeping you up at night, try putting down any electronics at least 30 minutes before going to bed. Pick up a book and set yourself a daily goal for pages read. You can also use this time to do some simple meditation. Focus all your attention on your breath or, starting at your toes, tense and release every muscle in your body until you reach your head. This gives your brain a task and allows you to say goodnight to yourself slowly and in a relaxed manner.

  1. Improve your diet.

Yes! A healthy and balanced diet is a one-way ticket to good health. Try to avoid processed foods, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates, and snack foods with no nutritional value. Try to incorporate fruits and/or vegetables into every meal. Adding fresh fruit to your morning oatmeal, leafy greens into your smoothies, shredded carrots and zucchini into your baked goods and broccoli or peas into pasta dishes are all wonderful and delicious ways to get started. If you find yourself going out to eat or ordering in multiple times a week, reflect on what meals you’re drawn to at restaurants or fast-food joints. Choose a day or two each week to recreate those meals at home, replacing ingredients that might be on the unhealthy side with healthier alternatives.

Most importantly, do not beat yourself up over your cravings. A good relationship with food and healthy living is the only way to ensure overall physical and mental wellbeing. Going out to eat with family or picking up a pastry on a Sunday morning walk are not punishable actions. Enjoy the food that you love while continuing to branch out. There are always new and different things to try, who knows what you might end up loving!

  1. Exercise.

Exercise does not strictly imply going to the gym and doing a high intensity cardio and strength workout. Exercise can mean putting aside 15 minutes a day for a short walk around your neighborhood, doing a simple yoga routine, or going on a sunset bike ride. There are infinite ways to get your heart rate up and engage your muscles. Do some experimenting; go on hikes, see if there are cross country skiing trails near you, or go on adventure to an unfamiliar lake or river and get in the water! Find what works best for you, your physical abilities, and your schedule and make time for it at least a few times a week.

  1. Mental health is important.

Here’s your reminder that health is not solely based on your physical strength. When you feel overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or anxious, your body exhausts itself by feeding energy into those feelings. This disables you from focusing clearly on other aspects of your life including your physical wellbeing. Make time for your mental health above all else. Be gentle and kind with yourself and try reconnecting with the things that bring you pure happiness. Whether this be art, reading, writing, exploring nature, or making music, allow yourself to have time to play without worrying about the outcome of your activity. You do not need to produce a final product in order to be productive, simply enjoying yourself is reward enough. When you nurture your intrinsic yearning for joy, your energy becomes infectious and irresistible, and your body can focus on keeping itself healthy. Tap into that!

All these examples are great ways to ensure that your baseline of health is strong so if/when you find yourself under the weather, you know that it was likely out of your control.

It’s incredibly important to be aware of your body and to keep track of what it thrives on. Keeping a journal can help you form a relationship with your health that can be observed and adjusted when needed. Chronicle any changes you make in your diet or exercise routine and find time every day to write down how you’re feeling. Ask yourself questions. Have I experienced any indigestion today? Did I have a headache at any point? Did my mind feel blurry? Did I notice my muscles feeling debilitatingly sore from my workout? Understanding that your body grows and changes constantly and being able to pinpoint inconsistencies and abnormalities is pertinent to good health. Find what you like and keep doing it! Don’t feel obligated to do things that don’t make you feel good, and you don’t enjoy just because other people do them. Your immune system will thank you.
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