No singular supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification — aside from physical distancing, also known as social distancing, and practicing proper hygiene ⁠— can protect you from developing COVID-19.  However, combining several healthy lifestyle processes can significantly improve your chances.

While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes can strengthen your body’s natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.

Here are some key tips to strengthen your immunity naturally.

Get enough sleep

Inadequate or poor-quality sleep, is closely linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness.

Getting adequate rest can strengthen your natural immunity.  Also, you need to sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness.

Adults should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night, while teens need 8–10 hours and younger children and infants up to 14 hours.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body’s natural wake-sleep cycle.

Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.

Eat more whole plant foods

Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens.

The anti-oxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels.

Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and certain cancers.

Meanwhile, the fiber in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut.  A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract.

Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.

Eat more healthy fats

Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your body’s immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.

Chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system.

Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in salmon and chia seeds, fight inflammation as well.

Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract.

Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms.

If you don’t regularly eat fermented foods, probiotic supplements are another option.

Limit added sugars

Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbs may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity.

Obesity can also increase your risk of getting sick.

According to an observational study in around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice as likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine.

Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet.

You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories.   Please avoid all artificial sweeteners.

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Engage in vigorous exercise

Vigorous exercise can give your immune system a boost.

Studies indicate that even a single session of vigorous exercise (flexibility, strength, and endurance) can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems.

What’s more, regular, vigorous exercise can reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly.

Examples of vigorous exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling (over diverse terrain), jogging (including hills, not just all flat), swimming (mix in different strokes), and hiking.  Most people should aim for at least 300 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

Stay hydrated

Hydration doesn’t singularly protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.

Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function.  These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness.

To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough clear fluid daily to make your urine a very pale yellow (approaching clear).  Water is recommended because it’s free of calories, additives, and sugar.

While tea and juice are also hydrating, it’s best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar contents.

As a general guideline, you should drink ahead of your thirst.  Once you’re thirsty, damage is already being done at the cellular level, then you can stop when you’re no longer thirsty.  You may need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or live in a hot climate.

It’s important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately.  Older adults need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.

Manage your stress levels

Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health.

Long-term stress promotes inflammation, as well as imbalances in immune cell function.

Activities that may help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices.  You may also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, whether virtually or in person.

Supplement wisely

Some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body’s general immune response:

  • Vitamin C. According to a review in over 11,000 people, taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect.
  • Zinc. In a review in 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33%.
  • Elderberry. One small review found that elderberry could reduce the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections.
  • Garlic. A high quality, 12-week study in 146 people found that supplementing with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by about 30%.

While these supplements demonstrated potential in the studies mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that they alone are effective against COVID-19.

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Thus, you should only purchase high-quality supplements that have been independently tested by third-party organizations.

The bottom line

You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes to strengthen your immune system. These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing your stress levels. Although none of these suggestions alone can prevent COVID-19, done together consistently, they can reinforce your body’s defenses against harmful pathogens.