Most of us have experienced a time in our lives when we were so busy or stressed that we ended up getting sick.
A busy stretch at work might lead to a cold. Or going on a vacation where we do too much eating and drinking can mean we get ill as soon as we get home. These all too common scenarios are reminders of how our immune system responds when our wellness is compromised.
Your wellness influences the strength of your immune system. In return, robust physical defenses support you on your path to wellness.
The Link Between Wellness and Your Immune System
Your immune system is a complex defense network that protects the body.
It works hard to:
- Fight off bacteria and viruses
- Neutralize toxins from your food or environment
- Combat changes in the body that could lead to disease (1)
From the moment you were born, your immune system was influenced by the world around you. Early experiences such as how you were delivered and whether you were breastfed immediately impacted your body’s defenses. (2) And your lifestyle and habits continue to determine your level of immunity as you age.
A robust immune system isn’t guaranteed. Its effectiveness depends in large part on your wellness.
Put simply: better wellness leads to stronger immune defense.
Wellness Habits That Support Immunity
A staggering number of critical body processes take place while you sleep. Certain essential functions can only happen in specific stages of the sleep cycle.
Your immune system requires both sufficient quantity and quality sleep. As you move through each stage of the cycle, your body produces a variety of cytokines and immune cells that bolster its defenses. (3) This means you need enough hours of sleep, but also deep enough sleep that you benefit from each stage.
When you’re short on sleep, your immune system suffers. Regularly getting less than 8 hours can lead to chronic inflammation, a higher risk of disease, and a decreased ability to fight off illness. (4)
In many ways, what happens in your mind also happens to your body. When you feel stressed, a cascade of physical effects takes place. In the short term, your immune system is boosted to protect you from the perceived threat.
However, when stress becomes chronic, the balance of immune cells shifts. (5) People who experience chronic stress have decreased immunity and are more likely to get ill. In addition, they are at a higher risk of heart disease and cancer. (6)
Chronic stress can also lead to altered immune responses. Allergies and autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks your own body tissues. In the presence of excess stress, the risk of this type of immune dysfunction increases. (5)
A balanced and varied diet provides the necessary building blocks for each piece of the immune system. For example, nutrients such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and iron are key to the production of immune cells. (7)
What you eat also influences your microbiome. This colony of bacteria and microorganisms makes up a significant portion of the immune system.
A plant-food diet that is high in fiber promotes the health of these beneficial organisms. A robust microbiome means a stronger immune system. (8)
Being active does amazing things for immunity.
Regular exercise can (9) :
- Raise body temperature, which may prevent bacterial growth
- Increase circulation of immune cells
- Cleanse the airways of viruses and bacteria
- Reduce stress
- Improve sleep
It’s important to note that regular rest from activity is also essential to a healthy immune system. Over-exercising, or not giving the body enough time to recover from exercise, leads to depletion and poor immune function.
As with so much of life, balance is essential.
The Strength of Wellness
It should be no surprise that caring for yourself makes you less likely to get sick. Understanding how your wellness habits directly support immunity is a fascinating look into the interconnectedness of your entire being.
Wellness supports your body’s ability to keep you healthy and free from illness. In return, a strong body provides the foundation for a life well-lived.