How to boost your immune system in weeks and maintain it long-term

Adequate hydration is key to building and maintaining a strong immune system. Westend61 / Getty Images
You can't strengthen your immune system overnight, but you can strengthen it with some simple lifestyle changes.
If you do it consistently for several weeks, you can strengthen your immune system by drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, and taking vitamin C and zinc supplements.
Some products may claim to boost your immunity quickly, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the only way to keep your immune system stronger in the long run.
Please refer to Insider's Insider Reference Library for more information.
When it's working properly, your immune system is an internal defense against harmful germs and infections. Building a strong immune system doesn't happen overnight, however.
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According to Tulip Jhaveri, MD, a medical microbiology colleague at Brigham and Women's Hospital who specializes in infectious diseases, strengthening your immune system can take weeks.
Therefore, a shot of lemon-ginger juice won't protect you from an infectious disease if you already have a weakened immune system. To get your immune system up quickly, you need to plan at least a few weeks in advance and follow some general guidelines.
Can You Improve Your Immune System In 24 Hours?
If you have a weakened immune system, there is no reasonable change you can make within 24 hours.
The immune system is a complex system that requires many different parts of the work. Because of this, "there is no quick way to improve it," says Jhaveri.
That said, if you're looking for the fastest way to give your immune system the best chance of preventing infection, Jhaveri says drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep is important.
It's important to note, however, that "it usually takes weeks of regular interventions to have an impact," says Jhaveria.
How to strengthen your immune system
If you are expecting to be in a situation where you may be exposed to a lot of germs - for example, if you are about to fly - and want to take steps to protect yourself, there are five ways to boost your immunity:
Drink plenty of water
"Drinking plenty of water before the flight is important because the higher the altitude, the more the humidity drops, which leads to a significant loss of fluids," says Jhaveri.
To function properly, your immune system relies heavily on the nutrients in your bloodstream, which are mainly water. Without water, the cells and tissues of your immune system won't get the nutrients they need. Your immune system also relies on water to flush out germs and waste.
The amount of water required can vary. However, you should try to drink fluids regularly throughout the day.
Get enough sleep
"Sleep is also very important as it allows the body to repair itself and prepare for the next day," says Jhaveri.
According to a 2017 study, sleep deprivation makes your body vulnerable to many infectious agents. You should aim for seven to eight hours of healthy sleep each night to help boost immunity.
If you're planning on going on a trip, Jhaveri recommends avoiding caffeine just before and during your flight, as it can dry out and disrupt your sleep schedule.
Exercise can help flush germs out of your lungs and airways and reduce the chances of getting sick. It also stimulates your immune system and fights stress hormones that can make you sick.
If you can, try doing 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous exercise for several weeks several days a week. You can opt for a brisk walk or bike ride in your neighborhood.
Take vitamin C and zinc
Both vitamin C and zinc improve your defenses against pathogens and are critical to your immunity.
Deficiency in both of these nutrients has been linked to more common and more severe cases of various illnesses, including malaria, diarrhea, cold, pneumonia, and other respiratory infections.
You can consult your doctor about whether you need these supplements and what dose is right for you.
Have some bone broth
Chicken soup made with bone broth can help clear the airways and reduce inflammation, according to Harvard Medical School. It's also a pretty good source of protein.
While bone broth is a trend and the evidence doesn't clearly suggest its benefits, protein is a critical nutrient for immunity as it is essential for the functioning of your T cells, a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in your immune response .
Long-term solutions to strengthen your immune system
To maintain a strong immune system over the long term, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle. Jhaveri recommends the following:
Eating a Healthy, Balanced Diet: Getting all of the nutrients and energy you need will help ensure that all of your cells, including those that make up your immune system, are functioning well. Jhaveri personally suggests a plant-based diet that focuses on whole foods as it not only improves your immunity but also reduces the risk of chronic disease.
Get regular exercise: Exercise stimulates your immune system and improves your ability to fight off communicable viral diseases, according to a 2020 study. "You can start with a brisk 30-minute walk three times a week and then increase it to daily," says Jhaveri. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Healthy outlets for coping with stress: Stress weakens your immune system and increases the risk of illness. "Meditation, contacting family and friends (virtually if necessary), good sleep hygiene, and developing and following a set schedule can all help reduce your stress levels," says Jhaveri.
Moderate alcohol consumption: Alcohol affects your immune system and makes it less effective at fighting infections. Jhaveri recommends cutting alcohol from your diet altogether if possible.
No smoking: Like alcohol, smoking affects your immune system.
Insider to take away
Like the other systems in your body, your immune system is a complex network of processes that works best when you provide it with enough energy and food to function.
While several products claim to boost your immunity quickly, the most effective strategy is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, reducing stress, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
According to Jhaveri, "even multivitamins and multiminerals have minimal to no benefit in boosting immunity, as was previously believed - they are dietary supplements, not a substitute for a balanced diet."
The best way to boost your immunity before traveling by air or any other high-risk situation is to start with these healthy habits - hydration, diet, sleep, and exercise are your best choices.
And above all, pay attention to good hygiene: You can follow these guidelines from the CDC to protect yourself and others from infection:
Avoid close contact with people, especially if they feel uncomfortable.
Wash your hands with soap and water or disinfect them with an alcohol-based solution.
Avoid touching your face.
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