Six Tips to Enhance Immunity

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A healthy lifestyle offers many benefits, including helping to prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Another important benefit is that healthy routines enhance your immunity.

The immune system is the body’s way of protecting itself from infection and disease; it fights everything from cold and flu viruses to serious conditions such as cancer.

Our immune systems are complex and influenced by many factors. Vaccines build immunity against specific diseases. Some additional ways you can strengthen your immune system are eating well, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and avoiding excessive alcohol use.

Eat Well

Food Assistance

If you need help obtaining nutritious food, see resources at USDA Nutrition Assistance Programexternal icon. You can also call the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1–866–3–HUNGRY or 1–877–8–HAMBRE to find resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services.

Eating well means emphasizingexternal icon plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and fat–free or low–fat milk and milk products. Eating well also means limiting saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.

Eating well provides multiple nutrients that support optimal immune function.1,2 Be aware, however, that too much of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful. Talk to your health care provider if you think you need nutritional supplements.

Be Physically Active

Regular physical activity helps you feel better, sleep better, and reduce anxiety. Combined with eating well, physical activity can help a person maintain a healthy weight.3

Following the physical activity recommendations for your age provides immediate and long–term benefits. Emerging research also suggests that physical activity may potentially benefit immunity.4,5

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight can affect how your body functions. Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more in adults, is linked to impaired immune functions.6,7 Obesity may also lower vaccine effectiveness for numerous diseases, including influenza,8 hepatitis B,9,10,11 and tetanus.12

Safe ways to help maintain a healthy weight include reducing stress, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in regular physical activity.

Get Enough Sleep

Scientific evidence is building that sleep loss can negatively affect different parts of the immune system. This can lead to the development of a wide variety of disorders.

Quit Smoking

Smoking can make the body less successful at fighting disease.  Smoking increases the risk for immune system problems, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Avoid Too Much Alcohol

Over time, excessive alcohol use can weaken the immune system.

In Summary

Immunity is your body’s defense against foreign organisms. Taking care of yourself will help your immune system take care of you.

References

1Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and immune functionexternal iconNutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. Accessed May 13, 2021.

2Christ A, Lauterbach M, Latz E. Western diet and the immune system: an inflammatory connectionexternal iconImmunity. 2019;51(5):794–811. Accessed May 13, 2021.

3US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition pdf icon[PDF-14.4MB]external icon. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 2018. Accessed May 13, 2021.

4Nieman DC, Wentz LM. The compelling link between physical activity and the body’s defense systemexternal iconJ Sport Health Sci. 2019;8(3):201–217. Accessed May 13, 2021.

5Jones AW, Davison G. Exercise, immunity, and illness.external icon In: Zoladz JA, ed. Muscle and Exercise Physiology. Academic Press. 2019;317–344. Accessed May 13, 2021.

6Tanaka S, Isoda F, Ishihara Y, Kimura M, Yamakawa T. T lymphopaenia in relation to body mass index and TNF–alpha in human obesity: adequate weight reduction can be correctiveexternal iconClin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2001;54(3):347–354. Accessed May 13, 2021.

7Alwarawrah Y, Kiernan K, MacIver NJ. Changes in nutritional status impact immune cell metabolism and functionexternal iconFront Immunol. 2018;9:1055. Accessed May 13, 2021.

8Neidich SD, Green WD, Rebeles J, et al. Increased risk of influenza among vaccinated adults who are obeseexternal icon. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017;41(9):1324–1330. Accessed May 13, 2021.

9Weber DJ, Rutala WA, Samsa GP, Santimaw JE, Lemon SM. Obesity as a predictor of poor antibody response to hepatitis B plasma vaccineexternal icon. JAMA. 1985;254(22):3187–3189. Accessed May 13, 2021.

10Simó Miñana J, Gaztambide Ganuza M, Fernández Millán P, Peña Fernández M. Hepatitis B vaccine immunoresponsiveness in adolescents: a revaccination proposal after primary vaccinationexternal icon. Vaccine. 1996;14(2):103–106. Accessed May 13, 2021.

11Young MD, Gooch WM III, Zuckerman AJ, Du W, Dickson B, Maddrey WC. Comparison of a triple antigen and a single antigen recombinant vaccine for adult hepatitis B vaccination.external icon J Med Virol. 2001;64(3):290–298. doi:10.1002/jmv.1049. Accessed May 13, 2021.

12Eliakim A, Schwindt C, Zaldivar F, Casali P, Cooper DM. Reduced tetanus antibody titers in overweight childrenexternal icon. [published correction appears in Autoimmunity. 2006 Jun;39(4):349. Swindt, Christina [corrected to Schwindt, Christina]]. Autoimmunity. 2006;39(2):137–141. Accessed May 13, 2021.