As the quest continues for a COVID-19 vaccine and the cold and flu season approaches, there are steps we can take to help boost our immune systems, ward off illness and stay healthy.

The human immune system is made up of various organs, cells and proteins that protect the body from harmful substances, germs and cell changes that could make us ill. When it’s working properly, we usually don’t think about our immune system because we feel good. If it’s weak or can’t fight particularly aggressive germs, however, we’ll notice it because we feel sluggish, gain weight, sleep poorly, or get sick.

Despite all the items that can be found online or on a pharmacy shelf, there is no magic pill that can give us a healthy immune system, but there are steps that we can take to improve our chances of staying healthy.

Harvard Medical School says following general good-health guidelines is the single best step we can take to keeping our immune system strong and healthy.

These healthy-living strategies include the following:
• Don’t smoke or vape – but if you do, cut back.
• Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, preferably fresh. Frozen vegetables without sauces are also a good option.
• Exercise regularly, aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
• Maintain a healthy weight. (Popular weight-loss diets are not recommended.)
• Drink alcohol only in moderation. The recommendation is one serving per day for women and two per day for men. A serving equals 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
• Get adequate sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults.
• Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
• Use positive ways to manage stress (such as exercise, meditation, talking to others, reprioritizing, practicing gratitude, practicing yoga, reading, listening to music).

Immune-boosting diet
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, there is evidence that nutrition and other lifestyle measures influence immune strength as well as susceptibility to infectious diseases. The committee notes that a low-fat, plant-based diet may help give the immune system a boost.

Studies have shown that limiting dietary fat helps strengthen immune defenses.

The following are some excellent food choices believed to boost the immune system:
• Beans, including black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils
• Blueberries, strawberries and raspberries
• Broccoli
• Eggs
• Fatty fishes such as salmon, mackerel and herring
• Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and swiss chard
• Nuts and seeds
• Lean meats and poultry
• Oats
• Greek yogurt
• Kombucha (unpasteurized to ensure the presence of “live and active” cultures)

The more diverse our intake is from fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy and whole grains, the stronger our bodies will be to protect us.

Helping employees understand the benefits of eating immune-boosting foods and adopting a healthy lifestyle are important to creating a productive and happy workforce.

Municipal leaders may want to encourage their wellness committee to share these tips as part of their efforts. Your health insurance provider, through its wellness programs, may also offer online classes on meal preparation, exercise and stress-reducing techniques that can help employees boost their immune systems and overall health.

A strong immune system is always important, but it’s even more critical during the COVID pandemic.

As we slowly return to being with groups of people, our immune systems will have to work harder to keep us well. Adopting good habits, including quality sleep, regular exercise, proper hand washing, social distancing, and eating a wide variety of whole, plant-based foods, all contribute to a strong immune system that will keep us in good health.

Written by Sandy Sarni, MIIA Integrative Nutrition Coordinator