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7 Healthy Habits to Boost Your Immune System, Says Science

By Jess Novak and Elizabeth Brownfield
September 20, 2022

It’s vitally important that we all double down on making sure our immune systems are working at their peak. This way we can fend off colds, viruses, and other illnesses that circulate more easily as the weather cools. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to boost your immune system and support that vital, interconnected network of organs, cells, and proteins that protects your body against harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

These are some of our favorite healthy tips to boost your immune system (aside from washing your hands… but, you know, please also wash your hands).

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1. Throw on some hand lotion — really.

Hand-washing is critical, but using a ton of water and soap every day is also extremely drying for your skin. As the weather starts to turn colder, it’s important to prevent chapped skin by applying lotion after washing hands or using hand sanitizer, both of which strip skin of its natural oils. And that’s not just for aesthetic reasons: Hands that are dry, cracked, or cut can actually give bacteria an entry point into your body, resulting in illness.

The fix: Avoid picking up germs by keeping your hands moisturized throughout the colder months.

2. Eat fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C.

While there may not be a point in loading up on Vitamin C once you already have a cold, it’s important to maintain a diet high in vitamin C-rich food to boost your immune system and keep it healthy. In a 2017 medical study, researchers note that “vitamin C is necessary for the immune system to mount and sustain an adequate response against pathogens,” meaning that we need this nutrient to fight off any viruses we encounter when we do normal stuff like ride public transportation or go to the grocery store.

The fix: Pack your diet full of fruits and vegetables like papaya, bell peppers, spinach, oranges, cauliflower, and kiwi, all of which are high in Vitamin C.

3. …and get your vitamin D, too.

You already know how important Vitamin D is for your bone health, but as it turns out, it’s also critical for your immune system. This vitamin can help modulate your immune system, and a vitamin D deficiency actually can lead to a greater risk of infection.

The fix: Make sure your diet is loaded with foods that offer plenty of vitamin D, like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms, and anchovies. If you’re having trouble getting enough vitamin D, pop a lichen-based supplement.

4. Pop some probiotics.

Probiotics have been found in studies to enhance innate immunity and block pathogenic bacterial effects. Especially if you’ve recently taken probiotics, getting your gut health sorted out can help enhance immune function.

The fix: Eat probiotic-rich foods like kimchi and yogurt, and if you want to add more healthy bacteria to your gut fast, try out a high-quality probiotic supplement.

5. Work it out.

Exercise does more than just help us build muscle and maintain a healthy weight. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for our immune systems, and also produces immunity-boosting white blood cells. If you’ve gained some quarantine pounds or are looking to get back into a better routine, use this back-to-school season as the time to kickstart better workout habits too.

The fix: Go for a run, a swim, or a bike ride — or if you want to work out in the temperature-controlled comfort of your living room, try some online streaming workouts.

6. Incorporate fiber.

As it turns out, a diet rich in fiber isn’t just good for your gut health. As the authors of a 2020 study put it, “dietary fiber, fermented by the gut microbiota into short-chain fatty acids, has also been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects… thereby strengthening the immune system.” By reducing inflammation, a diet rich in fiber can help you

The fix: Chia seeds, popcorn, oats, lentils, Brussels sprouts… there are so many delicious, whole high-fiber foods out there. Make sure you get a few servings every day.

7. Get more sleep.

Getting enough sleep is critical for enhancing our immune defense. Science has reaffirmed what your mom always told you: sleep really can help your body heal itself. Here’s the part mom might have left out: a good night’s sleep actually helps improve your T cell function, aka the cells that help you fight off viruses. So if you want to help your body keep bugs at bay, make sure you get a full night’s sleep.

The fix: If you’re not getting enough quality sleep, you’re not alone — a lot of us are sleep-deprived and need help finding ways to improve our sleep. If you’re someone who wakes up in the night and is unsure of how much sleep you’re getting, however, you may want to consider investing in a sleep tracker. They can help you determine whether or not you’re getting enough restorative deep sleep, and identify lifestyle patterns that may be getting in the way.

Read next: The Best Diet for Immune Health, According to Nutritionists

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