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The cold and flu season has arrived early this year, and many people are anxious to find ways to support their immune systems. Even a mild cold is uncomfortable and inconvenient, and most people want to avoid any level of sickness. Fortunately, there are ways to strengthen your immunity by implementing healthy habits throughout the day. Overall, the key to a healthy immune system is a healthy lifestyle. When every part of the body is functioning optimally, so does the immune system, allowing it to perform at peak efficiency to fight illnesses. 
7 Healthy Habits to Strengthen Your Immune System
Get enough sleep
Poor or inadequate sleep is linked to increased susceptibility to sickness. In a study with 164 healthy adults, those who slept less than six hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept six hours or more. But most people don’t need scientific data to believe that. It’s a common experience, to get run down, overtired, or burnt out, and wake up sniffling the next day.
Therefore, adults should aim for seven hours of sleep or more every night; teens need 8–10 hours, and younger children and babies need up to 14 hours. Prioritizing sleep during the cold season could go a long way to protecting your health.
Eat healthy food
Whole plant foods are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber, which may help combat pathogens. Whole plant foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts. Antioxidants help decrease inflammation. While inflammation is a typical response to stress in the body, chronic inflammation can weaken the immune system. Meanwhile, fiber helps enhance the gut microbiome, a collection of healthy bacteria in the gut. A strong gut microbiome can improve one’s overall immunity and fight off pathogens in the digestive tract. 
Moderate exercise can strengthen the immune system by reducing inflammation and boosting the regeneration of immune cells. But be careful not to overdo it. Lengthy and intense exercise regimes can weaken the immune system. Moderate exercise can include taking brisk walks, bicycling at a steady pace, jogging, light hiking, and swimming. Most people should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
Although hydration itself won’t protect you from pathogens, dehydration can worsen your overall health. It can cause headaches, and negatively affect physical performance, digestion, heart function, kidney function, mood, and concentration. These issues make a person more vulnerable to illnesses. To ensure hydration, drink enough fluid to make your urine pale yellow.
Water is ideal, but juice and herbal teas are also helpful, although it’s best to limit juice and sweetened tea because of their sugar content. In general, it’s important to drink when you’re thirsty and stop when you’re not. However, older adults tend to lose the urge to drink when their bodies stop signaling thirst properly. Therefore, it’s important for them to drink even when they’re not thirsty.
Sleep, diet, exercise, and hydration are all elements of maintaining good health. Although it’s less talked about, managing stress levels are important for physical as well as mental well-being. Long-term stress increases inflammation and imbalances immune cell function, effectively weakening the immune system. So during the cold and flu season, make sure you are participating in stress-releasing activities like exercising, journaling, meditation, aromatherapy, listening to music, yoga, journaling, and connecting with friends and loved ones. Many people benefit from speaking with a licensed counselor or therapist about how to better manage their stress, especially if they face stressors on a regular basis. 
Supplements can be helpful during the cold season. However, their effects are frequently exaggerated and not based on scientific data. For instance, there’s no evidence supporting the claims that certain supplements can prevent or treat COVID-19. Still, some studies indicate that some supplements can strengthen the overall immune system. These include: vitamin C and zinc, which can shorten the duration of a cold, and vitamin D, since having a deficiency increases the chances of getting sick (although taking extra doses doesn’t seem to provide additional benefits).
Plus, garlic, echinacea, and elderberry have some promising studies on their cold-fighting effects, although more research is needed to verify them. Only buy supplements certified by third-party organizations (like United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab) to ensure you’re using safe and effective products. 
Hygiene and social-distancing
The most well-known advice for colds and flu should not be overlooked: Avoid close contact with sick people, and stay home when you’re sick to avoid infecting others — or at least maintain a proper distance. Additionally, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets. But, sick or not, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or with an alcohol-based sanitizer if a sink is not available.
Additionally, avoid touching your face in public; only do so after washing your hands. While you’re at it, clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces — like doorknobs, counters, tables, drawer handles, etc. — especially when someone is sick.  Although these tips may seem elementary, they can be difficult to enforce when the situation arises. In general, staying mindful of what you’re doing, who you are with, and how you’re feeling can make a difference in preventing and spreading illnesses.
Keep Reading: The Best Way to Wash Your Face Is Actually a 200-Year-Old Method
- “How to boost your immune system.” Harvard Health Publishing. February 15, 2021
- “7 ways to boost your immunity this fall.” UCI Health. October 26, 2021
- “6 Immune System Busters & Boosters.” WebMD. Mary Anne Dunkin. June 18, 2021
- “9 Ways to Boost Your Body’s Natural Defenses.” Healthline. SaVanna Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LD. April 1, 2020
- “Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu.” CDC.