(BPT) - Whether it's battling the rampant germs of cold and flu season or maintaining wellness throughout the year, the immune system is your main line of defense. In order to feel good as often as possible — and recover quickly when you don't — it's important to keep your immune system strong.
"The immune system is the part of the body that monitors both internal and external environments," says Dr. Chris Oswald, certified nutrition specialist and chiropractor in Hudson, Wisconsin. "It's important to understand that both too much immune response and too little immune response, including inflammation, is not good, so maintaining that happy medium is the name of the game."
To achieve that "happy medium," Dr. Oswald recommends incorporating five simple steps into your daily routine:
Support natural sleep cycles
"Sleep is the time when our bodies repair and rejuvenate, so it is something to not be taken lightly," Dr. Oswald says. "Generally speaking, the older we are the less sleep we need, but for adults 7-9 hours is usually the sweet spot."
He says a good way to know if you are sleeping well is if you fall asleep within 30 minutes of lying down and you are able to wake at approximately the same time every day without an alarm clock.
"It is also very important to maintain regular hours as our body’s circadian rhythms do not like to be disrupted," he adds.
Eat fermented and unprocessed foods
Dr. Oswald says the body's microbiome health has a huge impact on the immune system. The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that inhabit the intestinal tract, creating a mini-ecosystem.
"Every bite of food we eat impacts microbiome balance, so it is important to eat foods that promote its health," he says. "I like fermented foods and foods that are minimally processed or as close to their form in nature as possible. When the wrong foods are eaten, certain microbiota are able to 'gain strength' and offset the health promoting benefits of other more beneficial organisms."
He adds that dietary fiber is also very important to maintaining the health of the microbiome. Additionally, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA help boost the immune system.
Use supplements to support digestive health
"The digestive tract is a barrier to the outside world which selectively allows molecules to pass through," says Dr. Oswald. This is why a healthy gut is a big part of overall health — it filters out the bad while keeping in the good.
Eating plenty of probiotics in foods like yogurt and kefir helps maintain digestive health, but it can be difficult for the average person to get enough to make an impact. "Supporting digestive health with a comprehensive probiotic supplement such as Nordic Naturals Nordic Flora Probiotic Daily is a great foundational health strategy for everyone," Dr. Oswald says.
Move your body
"Higher levels of fitness are definitely associated with improved immune function," says Dr. Oswald. He recommends high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate short periods of intense exercise with brief rest periods.
"I like people to choose any activity they like and have a nice gentle 5 minute warm-up followed by up to six 100 percent work intervals for 30 seconds with 60 seconds of rest," he says. "Once complete with the circuit, a five minute cool down completes your workout in 19 minutes or less."
Embrace mindfulness and meditate
Dr. Oswald says both acute and chronic stress have an effect on the immune system, which can potentially decrease your resistance to illness. One easy way to combat stress is to try to meditate every day.
"Meditation is a very powerful option and I firmly believe that all should find some way of increasing mindfulness," he says. "It is important to remember that meditation is different for everyone."
Meditation can be sitting quietly with eyes closed, staring at a flame, walking in the woods, etc. Try something that feels right to you that allows you to relax and be mindful of the present.