We’ve covered the base of the pyramid for immune health- sleep and hydration. Now let’s take a look at the next step in keeping your body running like the well-oiled and fueled machine that we want it to be!
Gut health is a huge factor in your immune function- it is what determines whether you absorb vitamins and nutrients from the foods you eat. There are a few different things that affect gut health, with sleep and hydration contributing a lot (if you didn’t get their importance before!). Your diet and exercise also contribute largely to gut health and with that, your immune function. What you eat and how much you eat affects your biofeedback in a multitude of ways, like how you sleep, how you perceive stress, and how much energy you have to exercise. Exercise affects the strength of your heart, the blood flow to your muscles, and the mobility and motility of your body. We’ll take a closer look at both Diet and Exercise and how they impact your gut health and thus your immune function.
I say it often, and this isn’t anything new, but I’ll still say it again- eat as many whole and unprocessed foods as often as possible. Mostly plants and protein, fruits, nuts and seeds, and starches. The Standard American Diet is filled with processed, highly palatable foods chock full of preservatives, fillers, and sugar. Sugar on its own is not inherently bad, it actually has application for certain populations (active people)- but when you mix it into a food that is super processed and highly calorie-dense, that’s where we run into issues. Processed foods are calorie-dense, and highly palatable, making them easier to eat in larger quantities. That’s all fine and good, except the body has a hard time processing all the junk in these processed foods. Most of it gets stored in the body as excess fat. Body fat is important in a healthy quantity, but any excess can be detrimental to hormone function, which directly affects sleep, gut health, and immune function. See where I’m going with this? It’s all connected, so if you’re not eating higher quality foods, you’re not going to sleep well, and you’re more likely to get sick and stay sick longer.
So what can you do?
Eat a diet high in whole and unprocessed foods- lots of veggies (at least 1 cup of fruits/veggies with every meal), high-quality protein, healthy fats (avocado, avocado/olive oil, nuts/seeds), and easy to digest carbs (potatoes, rice, oats, squash). Avoiding all processed foods is not necessary or really possible if you are trying to keep your social life, as you should, because humans are social creatures. BUT that being said, the less the better- that way, when you want to go out and enjoy some pizza or nachos with your friends, you’re not compounding it on top of an already unhealthy diet. Aim for a Protein, Veggie/Fruit, Fat, and Carb at every meal, and aim to have the majority of your meals be whole and unprocessed. If that seems like a lot for you, start small. Aim for 1-2 cups of veggies/fruits with at least 2 meals per day. Once you nail that, make it every meal. Once you nail that, focus on those high-quality protein sources with every meal. It’s all about consistent, 1% improvement every day.
Our bodies are meant to move. They’re meant to move fast, slow, up, down, and side-to-side. They’re definitely not meant to sit in a chair at a desk for 8+ hours a day. If you are going to the gym for an hour a day, 4-5 days a week, that’s all great, but what are you doing with the rest of your time? If you aren’t moving the majority of your day, whether that be in the form of short walking breaks throughout the day, or using a standing desk, or even taking breaks to get up and stretch periodically throughout the day, you’re setting yourself up to be stagnant. Heavy breathing is good for your heart, and for your lungs. It helps you clear out stagnant blood and stale air, and the stress it imposes encourages adaptation. We talked about the importance of sleep and hydration in the first part of this series, and those are still super important when it comes to managing the stress that comes with exercise. That stress is good, but it is only beneficial when managed with the appropriate recovery (aka sleep and nutrition).
The time you spend moving outside of the gym is equally as - if not more- important as the time you spend in the gym. If you spend 1 hour in the gym, but the rest of your day you are sitting at a desk, barely moving, the chances of your health improving are slim. If you spend an hour in the gym, and then the rest of the day you are getting outside to walk for 10-15 min every couple of hours, or you take extra water breaks and walk to a farther water fountain or bathroom on a different floor.
Movement and Micronutrients are vital to promote healthy immune function- along with proper sleep and adequate hydration.
Stay healthy, my friends!
And stay tuned for Part 3: The Extras