By Dra. Joyce Bernardino, MD, FPCP, DPBCN

It’s never “just a cold”. An infection can domino into several things like having a sick day at work, or missing an important event. How do we keep ourselves going?

Our immune system is designed to be working round the clock to kick out viruses, bacteria and fungi that we are exposed to. But sometimes, these invaders can get inhaled, rubbed or swallowed into our bodies. Those with a strong immune system can remove it without causing any symptoms. But those with a lesser capacity to respond, such as older people and those with existing conditions can be prone to developing illness.

There are many ways to improve our immune defense, but let us start with the best four- adequate sleep, regular exercise, good hygiene, and complete nutrition.

1. More Sleep

SleepingThe manifold benefits of sleep for physical and mental health cannot be overemphasized. However, many of us overextend waking and working hours. During sleep, cytokines are secreted, which are substances that help us respond during inflammation. Less sleep can cause reduced antibody and cell production. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Sleep Research Society and National Sleep Foundation recommend seven to eight hours of good sleep for adults.

If you are having less than adequate snooze, it may be time to develop good sleep hygiene. It is suggested to stick to the same bed and waking times. It is also encouraged to maintain a conducive sleep environment, free of noise and distractions. Avoidance of electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime and in the middle of the night may also help. Quality sleep can help the body function better for the tasks ahead in the day. If you do catch a cold, having enough rest can help you bounce back to health as well.

2. Exercise Moderately

exerciseIt has been shown that moderate exercise can enhance immune function above sedentary levels. There are also indicators that exercising regularly can make you progressively stronger. Acute exercise, less than 60 minutes, is an immune system adjuvant. It can bump up IgA, a protein which improves the ability of cells to identify pathogens. Those who exercise are also found to have a reduced inflammatory marker such as C- reactive protein.

Some suggested activities are taking a daily 20- 30 minute walk, or going to the gym every other day. Taking up a sport or hobby such as dancing, may also be an enjoyable way to get active. Overall, exercise can help one feel healthier and more energetic, as well as the added benefits of decreasing heart disease and keeping bones strong.

3. Good Hygiene Tactics

washing handsIt is also important to strategize and help our immune system by limiting pathogen exposure. Some ways to reduce infections is to keep away from close contact in a crowded or closed space. Limiting hand and face contact can also prevent auto- inoculation.

Hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infections. According to the Center for Disease Control, hands should be wet with clean water and lathered with soap from the back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails. Hands should be scrubbed for at least 20 seconds, as long as two “Happy Birthday” songs, then rinsed and dried well. This may be done after contact with a person who appears ill, after use of public transportation or restroom, and before handling food.

4. Complete Your Nutrition Needs

balanced diet plateWithout adequate nutrition, the immune system will be deprived to generate an effective response. Cells require macronutrients from carbohydrates, proteins and fats which provide energy and substrate for vital functions. Micronutrients have an essential role in metabolism and can act as antioxidants during stress. Vitamin C, D, E and Zinc has been well studied to affect immune cells. Having a balanced diet with starch, meat, fruit and vegetables per meal can often meet this need.

Oftentimes, consumption can be a challenge for people who have decreased appetite due to illness or even due to aging. A healthy immune system needs a regular supply of adequate nutrients. Oral Nutrition Supplements (ONS), can provide these needs as it contains a complete mix of both macro and micronutrients. One that contains pre- and probiotics can work to stimulate gut mucosal immune cells, and whey protein which can improve muscle mass and strength.

These healthy lifestyle steps are some of your best defense against infections. Take one move today, to keep the doctor away!

Dra Joyce Bernandino is the head of the Nutrition Support Team of De La Salle University Medical Center. She is also a fellow of Philippine College of Physicians and Diplomate of Philippine Board of Clinical Nutrition.

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