Get Outside: Natural ways to boost your immune system

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Keep your immune system functioning at its best

Navigating through the COVID pandemic has been confusing, stressful, and divisive. No matter if you’re getting back to work or staying at home, it’s important that we take good care of ourselves. If we’re told to stay inside, we should question that. Getting outside every day that it’s possible is a simple way to give your immune system a boost. 

Taking a deep breath of fresh air is good for the soul. I can tell the days that I don’t get out. It definitely has a negative effect on my mood. Lately I’ve been working out with my soon to be college athlete. Hopefully Hana will be headed off to college this Fall and already has volleyball workouts to do. My old RA body definitely has to modify, but I’m still able get a good workout in. Plus we get some time together, which is priceless.

No matter what your condition is physically, you can find ways to get outside and help your immune system out.  The worst thing we can do right now is hide ourselves inside, not getting fresh air and exercise.

Heading outside helps for many different reasons

lady sitting in the sun

First, sunlight helps your body produce Vitamin D. Even when utilizing sun protection, being in the sunshine triggers the production Vitamin D. Why does that even matter? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes healthy bones and supports immune system function. 

Vitamin D has been used (unknowingly) to treat infections such as tuberculosis before the advent of effective antibiotics. Tuberculosis patients were sent to sanatoriums where treatment included exposure to sunlight which was thought to directly kill the tuberculosis. And while we now know that not to be true, it is likely that Vitamin D helped the immune system better fight the tuberculosis. (1)

Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of respiratory diseases, including tuberculosis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as viral and bacterial respiratory infections (currently slightly important, don’t you think?)

What’s more, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to decreased lung function, which may affect your body’s ability to fight respiratory infections

Yes you can also get Vitamin D from food & supplements. If you live in an area that gets little sunlight, or have darker skin color it will be important for you to make sure you have additional sources of the vitamin. Add foods such as salmon, tuna, egg yolks or mushrooms to your diet to get additional Vitamin D. There are supplements available if your medical professional thinks it’s necessary for you. (2) (3)

Sunshine is for more than Vitamin D

girl riding tricycle

Sunlight also energizes the body’s T cells which play a central role in human immunity. A study at Georgetown University Medical Center “found that low levels of blue light, found in sun rays, makes T cells move faster — marking the first reported human cell responding to sunlight by speeding its pace.  

“T cells, whether they are helper or killer, need to move to do their work, which is to get to the site of an infection and orchestrate a response,” Ahern says. “This study shows that sunlight directly activates key immune cells by increasing their movement.” (4)

T cell lymphocytes are necessary for cell mediated immunity, which is an immune response that involves the activation of immune cells to fight infection. T cells function to actively destroy infected cells, as well as to signal other immune cells to participate in the immune response. (5)

Exercise also plays a role in keeping our immune system strong. Of course this can be done indoors or outdoors, but there’s nothing like getting some fresh air and a little change of scenery while you’re at it!

Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness. The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection better, similar to what happens when you have a fever.

Lower Stress levels boosts your immune system

It’s also a stress releiver. Exercise slows down the release of stress hormones. Some stress increases the chance of illness. Lower stress hormones may protect against illness. (6)

Here are 10 ideas to help you & your family get outside and get more exercise:

playing ball with dog as one way to get outside and support your immune system
  • Take a daily 20-30 minute walk, run, or combination
  • Bicycle around your neighborhood a few times a week
  • Dig out that old frisbee
  • Join an online fitness challenge. Many workouts can easily be done outside (or at least done partially outside)
  • Plant a garden (need some advice?)
  • Other less fun yard work (can you tell I prefer gardening)
  • Have a water balloon fight with your family. Or nerf gun war. Or other craziness, but you get the picture
  • Go hiking
  • Set up a badminton or volleyball court in the yard
  • Have a picnic lunch

We want to hear about your favorite ways to get outside – both right now when some options are limited as well as what you love to do normally. Share in the comments!

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