We all know by now that stress weakens our immune system, increasing our vulnerability to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Fortunately, we can take measures to counter the negative impact of stress by making simple lifestyle changes and watching the way we eat. After all, scientists now acknowledge that the gut is the "second brain" of the body. A happy, healthy gut can improve our immunity and make us less vulnerable to diseases like diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue, heart disease, high BP, stroke, arthritis and even some cancers. Researchers believe 90% of serotonin (the feel good chemical of the body) is produced in the gut. Also 60-70% of our immune system is located in our gut.
1. Get rid of packaged food/drinks
To begin with, ditch highly processed, out-of-the-box food and avoid drinking water from plastic bottles. All of these affect the endocrine, immune system, and nervous system (this slideshow is a handy guide to the plastics that may be wreaking havoc in your body). The simple and cheap way is to cook and carry your food and water.
2. Think fresh - and fermented
The value of fresh food cannot be stressed enough. Knowing the miles your food has travelled from farm to table is important as the nutritive value of the food starts to go down as the time and miles travelled increase. Add fresh herbs and fermented foods in your diet to boost your digestive health. Take supplements on a need basis, but they are no replacement for healthy, fresh, clean produce.
3. Time your meals well
Plan ahead and never make the mistake of attacking food when starving. Most people do well on eating 5-6 times a day.
4. Chew properly
Chewing helps in lowering the workload of the digestive system. The enzymatic action produced by mastication and liquefaction of food is the cheapest way to get nutrients and energy from whatever you are eating. Try chewing one bite at least 30 times.
5. Exercise right (not too much!)
The hazardous effects of a sedentary lifestyle are well documented and it isn't enough to simply work out a few times a week since long spells of sitting can be harmful to your health. Even if you're occupied in desk work, make sure you get up every hour for a five-minute walk up and down the corridor or to a nearby park if possible.
At the same time, too much exercise appears to negatively affect immunity, as does no exercise at all. Thirty minutes to a maximum of an hour of regular and moderate exercise five to six times a week can enhance the immune system. The most important aspect is to do what you love. On top of my list is yoga - I look forward to it every day. If you are bored by the exercise you are doing switch to something else.
6. Catch up on sleep
Lack of deep and enough sleep can cause irritability, sugar cravings and also reduce immunity. On the other hand, ensuring that you get your eight hours will boost your mood, improve brain function and even help in weight management along with various other benefits. Try to factor in naps or breaks during the day to bump up your energy levels and also improve your immune function.
7. Check if your tongue and poop are 'clean'
Checking for a clean tongue and perfect poop should be part of your and your family's daily regime. And no it's not gross. Making sure that all is well on both ends will inform you a lot about your gut health and thus immunity.
8. Learn to relax
Practices to reduce mental stress increase your body's immunity. The better you feel about yourself in mind the better your body responds. So indulge in practices like meditation, listening to calming music and practicing gratitude. Also different kinds of massages are available to activate the lymphatic system, which is an important part of the immune system.
9. Cut down on chemicals
As far as possible, use natural products rather than those loaded with chemicals in your self-care and home-care regimen. Remember that your skin is the largest organ and what you put on it does get absorbed. The more chemicals you load it with whether on your hair, lips, face or the whole body, you are not only stressing your body but are also risking lowering your immunity as now your body has to fight more to stay healthy.
10. Connect with others
Connect with a friend or someone new to talk to; for the best benefits aim for face-to-face or telephone conversations rather than text or e-mail. Loneliness can be devastating for your immune cells. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
At the same time, cultivate generosity within yourself for health as well as emotional benefits. The act of giving your time and resources creates something beautiful in your body and immune system.